TOP STORIES Your Friday briefing: Biden and Xi's tense phone call

Your Friday briefing: Biden and Xi’s tense phone call

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We cover the telephone marathon between Chinese Presidents Biden and Xi Jinping and US recession fears.

President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke on the phone for two hours and 17 minutes, their first direct conversation in four months during which relations between their countries soured.

China and the US disagree over Russia’s war in Ukraine, tariffs, and China’s aggressive actions in the Asia-Pacific region. The future of Taiwan, the self-governing island that China covets and that Biden says it will defend by force, has become a particularly contentious issue, especially with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reportedly planning to visit.

China’s foreign ministry said the call was productive but issued a stern warning against what it sees as US provocations without directly mentioning Ms. Pelosi.

“Playing with fire will result in a fire,” the ministry said in a statement.

Analysis: Some U.S. officials believe Xi is taking a tougher stance on the U.S. to distract the Chinese from domestic problems—“a tried and tested method of leaders around the world,” writes our colleague Peter Baker.

Inflation-adjusted gross domestic product fell 0.2% in the second quarter, after contracting 0.4% in the first three months of the year, according to the Commerce Department. The rate of decline in GDP so far in 2022 means that by one common but unofficial definition, the US economy entered recession just two years after it emerged from the last one.

A judge in Australia has ruled that a Chinese-Australian accused of preparing an act of foreign interference will stand trial in the first judicial review of a wide-ranging law that raises concerns of abuse of power.

The man, Di Sanh Duong, was indicted in 2020 after he raised money for a Melbourne hospital, which authorities say was used to develop a relationship with a federal minister to influence policy for China. Under a foreign influence law passed in 2018 amid concerns over Chinese influence, he could face a maximum sentence of 10 years.

The evidence against Duong is mostly circumstantial. His lawyers argue that the prosecution is relying on weak evidence to draw conclusions in future cases and that it “stretches every tendon in criminal law.” They said the $26,000 donation was just a way to fight anti-Chinese racism.

But the judge agreed with the Australian authorities, allowing the prosecution to continue without evidence that Duong planned to commit an act of interference.

Legal type: Sarah Kendall, a law researcher at the University of Queensland, said the case reflects the broad scope of the law. Under it, she said, conduct that might be harmless in itself could be considered a crime if the police could show that there was a necessary intention behind the conduct to prepare for foreign intervention.

For millennia, Europeans have consumed dairy products despite the lack of the enzyme needed to prevent gastrointestinal discomfort. In a new report, scientists argue that the lactase mutation only became important for survival when Europeans began to suffer from epidemics and famine.

Lives lived: U Phyo Zeya Thaw, a Burmese hip-hop star turned pro-democracy activist and politician, was executed by Myanmar’s military junta on Saturday.

The Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, chose Arthur Hughes, who has radial dysplasia, which means he has a shorter right hand and is missing a thumb. The company said it was the first time it had cast a disabled actor to play a character who describes himself as “deformed” in the opening scene.

The Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada, went the other way: Colm Feore, who is not disabled, was cast as Richard with a deformed spine. And in New York City, the Public Theater’s Free Shakespeare in the Park went in another direction, casting Danai Gurira, a black woman with no disability.
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Their different approaches came at a time when intense rethinking of cultural norms regarding identity, representation, diversity, opportunity, imagination, and artistic license led to a passionate debate about casting.

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