Oct 19, 2021 - Podcasts

Why China’s hypersonic missile test matters for the U.S.

China tested a hypersonic missile last August, according to new reporting from the Financial Times. China says it wasn't a nuclear-capable missile, but a routine spacecraft check. So how worried should we be?

  • Plus, more tension between the Joes: Biden and Manchin.
  • And, remembering former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Guests: Axios' Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian and Hans Nichols.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, Alex Sugiura, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Michael Hanf, and David Toledo. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Tuesday October 19.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what you need to know today: more tension between the Joes: Biden and Manchin. Plus, remembering former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

But first, today’s One Big Thing: why China’s hypersonic missile test matters for the U.S.

The Financial Times just broke the story that China tested a hypersonic missile last August. China says it wasn't a nuclear capable missile, but a routine spacecraft check. So how worried should we be about this? Here to explain what's happening and what all of this means for us, is Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, Axios’ China reporter. Good morning, Bethany.

BETHANY: Hi Niala.

NIALA: Can you explain the context for what we know about what's happening around this missile test?

BETHANY: So this is the latest in a series of pretty significant headlines about the relationship between China and the rest of the world or the U.S. and China. So a few months ago, satellite images revealed that there are hundreds of new missile silos in Western China that have been constructed. We've also seen a dramatic rise in the number of Chinese bombers and jet fighters that have flown close to Taiwanese airspace. And we've also seen, you know, on the U.S. side, more alliances and pacts that are being formed with the aim of countering China. So this is the environment that we're talking about, some, some pretty serious tensions here.

NIALA: Bethany, I think oftentimes when we hear about missile tests, we are used to hearing these come from a place like North Korea. Is it fair to compare these two countries? How dangerous is this test?

BETHANY: Well, these are quite different things because if you compare China and North Korea, North Korea is very much a rogue regime. It does not participate in the international system. Whereas China is well situated within the international system and thus has a lot of reasons and a lot of incentive to abide by, you know, treaties that it has signed, to not jeopardize its standing. And something else is that China has had nuclear weapons for half a century and hasn't used them. So the fact that it's a nuclear capable hypersonic missile, I think is not as alarming as it could potentially sound.

NIALA: Some people are calling the tensions between China and the U.S. a cold war. Do you think that's an accurate way to describe what's happening now?

BETHANY: That's a tough question. And I think it really depends on what we mean by a cold war. There's really only been one cold war. So when we use that term, we're thinking of, you know, the U.S. Soviet Union-era cold war. And that was characterized by, first and foremost, an arms race and fears over mutual nuclear annihilation. In that cold war, the Soviet Union implemented an economic blockade. It did not have any kind of significant economic ties with the west. And the world today is completely different. I mean, first of all, so much of the world is economically linked and China is in fact, the world's top trade partner. Also, the world has made such strides forward in nuclear non-proliferation and in rejecting the idea of a nuclear arms race. However, I think if we go back to the original meaning of the term cold war itself without thinking of, you know, the specific one that we're all familiar with, it's still a useful concept because the opposite of a cold war is a hot war—meaning, you know, weapons, bombs, blood, death you know, two armies fighting each other. And that is not happening right now between the U.S. and China. It doesn't matter what we want to call it a hot war, a cold war, a gray war, whatever. If the U.S. and China are trying to maneuver around each other and get diplomatic alliances and try to stymie each other's moves on the international stage, this is going to divert energy away from achieving global cooperation on issues like climate change. So there's real human costs here.

NIALA: Bethany Allan-Ebrahimian is the author of the weekly Axios China newsletter. Thanks Bethany.

BETHANY: Thanks, Niala.

NIALA: One more time to update for you. Last week, we spoke to Bethany about China's censorship of LinkedIn. A few days ago, Microsoft announced it will be shutting down LinkedIn in China as a result.

We’ll be back in 15 seconds with Hans Nichols’s scoop on Senator Joe Manchin and the child tax credit.

Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo. Yesterday, we talked about the crucial role West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin has taken in opposing President Biden's climate agenda. Now, as Axios’ Hans Nichols reports, similar tensions are rising between Senator Manchin and Biden's family agenda.

Hans joins us now with his scoop. Good morning Hans.

HANS NICHOLS: Good morning.

NIALA: What does Senator Manchin want to see happen with the proposals around the child tax credit?

HANS: He just wants to shrink them. Right? I mean, we can talk about the different ways he wants to shrink it. It's an exceedingly expensive program. It's about 100 to 110 billion per year. So you cost that out over ten and you're at like $1.6 trillion. Manchin wants to put an income cap on it in the 60,000 range for families and he also wants to make sure that anyone that gets it, is actually working. So you have a W-2. For Manchin it sort of gets away with what he's really concerned about and that is this entitlement mentality that he thinks is seeping into the country.

NIALA: So that said, do we know where he stands on other items like paid family leave?

HANS: Well, paid family leave isn't a priority for him. And that's causing some concern among people in the House, especially people like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Richard Neal who really want to fight for it. On some of the other big ticket items - elderly care, care for the elderly and disabled, Manchin’s not terribly enthusiastic about those programs. He does seem interested in pre-K or universal pre-K, which they already have in West Virginia. The indications are he’s probably for some sort of subsidies for young families that have young children for daycare.

But again, he wants to means test all that. Means testing for Manchin is just putting an income on it, right? So wealthy people don't get it, rich people don't get it. Where you draw that line for the middle-class will be a huge debate. So that means the subsidy will go for those who are truly, in Manchin's worldview, truly deserving and truly need the help. But you know, again, on all these packages, you impose some sort of income requirements on them or income caps and they get a lot less expensive.

NIALA: Where is the space to negotiate on the progressive wing of the party?

HANS: Their public positions are still that it's 3.5 trillion or bust. And that's just not a starter for Manchin nor Sinema. So at a certain point, these negotiations are going to get very real. And they're also going to get ugly because progressive priorities are going to get cut and that's going to force progressives to make some difficult decisions. Do they want to have paid family leave or do they want to have elderly care? Do they want to have an expanded, fully-funded child tax credit or do they want to have universal pre-K? So they can't get everything if Manchin holds to his number and it looks like Manchin and Sinema are holding to their numbers.

NIALA: Axios political reporter Hans Nichols. Thanks, Hans.

HANS: Thanks for having me.

COLIN POWELL: “Never lose faith in America. It's faults are yours to fix, not to curse. America is a family. There may be differences and disputes within the family, but we must not allow the family to be broken into warring factions,”

NIALA: That's former secretary of state Colin Powell who died yesterday at the age of 84. That was him speaking at Howard University in 1994. He became the first Black Secretary of State in 2001.

Powell died of complications from COVID-19. He was vaccinated but had been battling cancer and was immunocompromised.

When I heard the news yesterday, my first memory was of Secretary Powell when I was first starting out at Reuters here in DC. I was sent to a cocktail hour to ask him a question and he was pulled away -- not so uncommon for high level members of the US government. What is uncommon is what happened next: he came back, through the crowd, to find me later, specifically so that I could finish my last question to him. I’ve been a journalist for 20 years, and I can say: that’s the only time that’s ever happened to me.

That’s all we’ve got for you today! Remember you can always text me feedback and story ideas at (202) 918-4893.

I’m Niala Boodhoo. Thanks for listening, stay safe, and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

Sometimes we like to tell you about other podcasts -- like Today, Explained, a daily news podcast from Vox. Every day, the team picks one essential news story and host Sean Rameswaram speaks with some of the world’s best journalists, academics, and policymakers to help us make sense of it. You can listen and follow Today, Explained in your favorite podcast app.

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