Dec 10, 2021 - Podcasts

Biden vs. China and Russia

This week has been all about President Biden taking on Russia and China. On Monday, the U.S. announced a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing. On Tuesday, Biden had a two-hour call with Vladimir Putin about Ukraine. This all came against the backdrop of Biden’s Summit for Democracy this week.

  • Plus, the U.S. starts denying some Afghan immigrant applications.
  • And, how AI could end foreign-language subtitles

Guests: Axios' Dave Lawler, Sophia Cai and Bryan Walsh.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Julia Redpath, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Alex Sugiura, Sabeena Singhani, 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 Friday, December 10th. I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what you need to know today: the U.S. starts denying some Afghan immigrant applications. Plus: how AI could end foreign-language subtitles.

But first, Biden vs. China AND Russia is today’s One Big Thing.

NIALA: On Fridays we often wrap up U.S. politics, but this week we’re diving into foreign policy because this week has been all about president Biden taking on Russia and China. The president had a two-hour-long call with Vladmir Putin about Ukraine. Earlier in the week the US announced a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in China. And this all against the backdrop of president Biden’s Summit for Democracy this week. Axios world editor Dave Lawler is going to wrap all of this up for us -- Hey, Dave!


NIALA: Today's day two of president Biden's Democracy Summit. That's an event with global leaders intended to strengthen democracies around the world. And I know one of the president's goals here is to bring democracies together to band together against China. How has this helped?

DAVE: President Biden kicked off the summit by acknowledging the issues that the United States has with our own democracy. And said, this was about, basically getting like-minded people together to talk about how to bolster democracy around the world. So, this is in some ways a listening session, it's very difficult to get a hundred countries together and come to some kind of conclusion. But president Biden is talking about this as the beginning of a conversation that will continue throughout his term.

NIALA: And how does this coincide with the US’ strategy on China?

DAVE: It's in some ways quite difficult because do you confront countries that are very important to the China challenge about their democracies at home? India is a country where there's lots of concern about human rights but India is crucial to the US strategy on China. So, that's not an isolated case. There are some questions about that. But yeah, there are some ways in which the China strategy may come into tension, uh, with this democracy agenda.

NIALA: Also this week, Dave, the list of countries boycotting the 2022 Beijing winter Olympics is growing - a diplomatic boycott I should say. Who's involved with that and how has China responded?

DAVE: Yeah, so these are countries that are not going to any representatives of their government to the games, but they will still be sending athletes. The US came out on Monday, Australia, Canada, the UK and Lithuania have jumped on board. But they stopped short of a full boycott, which would have meant no athletes. So China is very upset at this snub, but what they were really worried about was athletes skipping. And right now it looks like all the athletes will go. Now, this is motivated by what the US has called genocide in Xingjiang, China, where Uyghur Muslims are being held in concentration camps. That is the reason the US gave and the other countries have given for the diplomatic boycott.

NIALA: We started the week talking about tensions along the Ukraine border with Russia, was that the main subject of president Biden's two-hour conversation with Vladimir Putin this week?

DAVE: It was - one thing he wanted to do was say, here's what we're going to do if you invade. So we're talking about sanctions, we're talking about moving more troops into Eastern Europe, which Putin doesn't particularly like. And we have since then seen the Russians say they hope to continue the dialogue. And so we don't know quite yet if this crisis is over, but Biden was definitely hoping that it would move us one step further away from another war in Europe.

NIALA: Dave Lawler is Axios’ world editor and author of the Axios world newsletter. Thanks, Dave.

DAVE: Thanks, Niala.

NIALA: In 15 seconds: why the U.S. has started to deny some Afghan immigrants entry.

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NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo. Thousands of Afghans, hoping to resettle in the U.S. are going through an immigration process known as humanitarian parole. This system typically processes 2,000 applications a year, but since the U.S. troop withdrawal from the region, more than 30,000 people have applied. And now the Biden administration is starting to issue dozens of denials. Axios politics reporter Sophia Cai has the scoop. Hi, Sophia.

SOPHIA CAI: Hi there.

NIALA: What is humanitarian parole? Is this like the refugee resettlement program?

SOPHIA: Humanitarian parole gives Afghans two years in the U.S. to complete their application for more formal programs like asylum, refugee or SIV. And the U.S. used their parole authority to bring 75,000 Afghans in.

NIALA: You got the scoop on this because you got a chance to look at one of the denial letters from immigration officials. What did we learn from that?

SOPHIA: The Biden administration is starting to issue denials. And I was able to obtain one letter that basically says in fairly vague terms that “you do not meet the standard.” And the standard is that you must show third-party documentation of the harm that you are in, in the location that you're in. So it's very specific and the same threat documentation that the U.S. government is asking for, you may have destroyed that in order to keep yourself safe. The lawyers and advocates that I've been speaking to say that it really is an untenable standard that the Biden administration has set for applicants.

NIALA: What has the Biden administration said about this process?

SOPHIA: So what they've told us is that this parole program was never meant to be a broad program, that it was only intended for people in extreme circumstances who were not able to leave Afghanistan. And you know, this is still early stages and the denials that I've heard about are in the dozens. So it is still yet to be seen, but it is sort of a sign for what may come.

NIALA: Axios politics reporter Sophia Cai. Thanks, Sophia.

SOPHIA: Thanks.

NIALA: When I’m streaming shows like Squid Game, the hit South Korean drama from Netflix, I always prefer subtitles to dubbing. But it turns out I’m in the minority, because more Netflix viewers around the world watched Squid Game in one of 13 dubbed languages than in the original Korean with subtitles. As international content, like Squid Game, becomes increasingly important for streaming services, bad dubbing can be a stumbling block. But there’s a new dubbing product called that may be the solution for these streaming giants, using what it calls “hyper-realistic” synthetic voices. Axios Future correspondent Bryan Walsh, is here to explain. Bryan - what does this AI allow content producers to do?

BRYAN WALSH: Well, it actually allows content producers to generate a synthetic voice. And if you can translate it, have that synthetic voice, which sounds very similar to the person speaking in the original language, be speaking in a foreign language. So, in the future you could have, here's Tom Cruise now he's doing Mission Impossible 25, and now you change it, and it's Tom Cruise doing Mission Impossible 25 but he’s speaking in Mandarin or he’s speaking in Korean, for instance. So that's the direction we're going at right now. And we can already begin to s ee that happening if you'd like to actually hear what it sounds like. This is Ryan Steelberg, he's the president of Veritone, the company that makes You'll hear him speaking his native language first.

RYAN STEELBERG: We at Veritone, you know, we've been doing this now for about six years, so we're one of the, uh, I guess the old farts.

BRYAN: And now you're going to hear in the synthetic voice that the product generates.

AI RYAN: I am Ryan Steenberg, president and co-founder of Veritone. And this is a synthetic text to voice model of my voice used with my expressed permission.

BRYAN: I don't think you'd see a Netflix go straight to this yet, but like a lot of things in AI, you can see this as the seeds of what will likely happen in the future. Where it won't be too hard, I think, over time to capture voices, generate them synthetically, and then using translation, okay, we'll just change it around to different languages. And the options that really opens up both for expanding foreign language content here in the US or, of course, English content around the world, it's, it's pretty big.

NIALA: That's Axios’ Bryan Walsh. Thanks, Bryan.

BRYAN: Thank you.

NIALA: Before we end the week -- the year is almost over, and we’re starting to look back. There are already end-of-year best-ofs and top-10s galore -- like did you know that a tweet from Korean boy band BTS got the MOST retweets in 2021, according to Twitter? It was a hashtag StopAsianHate tweet.

Next week on this show, we’ll be having some special conversations about the year’s biggest moments -- in Axios Smart Brevity style, don’t worry -- But that made me want to ask you: what was your best moment this year? You can email me at [email protected] -- or you can text me at (202) 918-4893 - and we’ll air some of those next week.

Axios Today is brought to you by Axios and Pushkin Industries.

We’re produced by Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Lydia McMullen-Laird, David Toledo, and Sabeena Singhani. Our sound engineers are Alex Sugiura and Jayk Cherry. Julia Redpath is our Executive Producer. Sara Kehaulani Goo is our Editor In Chief. And special thanks to Axios co-founder Mike Allen.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - and have the best weekend.

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