Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Denver news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Des Moines news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Minneapolis-St. Paul news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tampa Bay news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Charlotte news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Here's how 2021 is beginning: On one side of the Pacific, a show of strength that has shocked the world. On the other side, a show of weakness that has shocked the world.

Why it matters: The chaos that unfolded on Capitol Hill Wednesday afternoon is a sign that the U.S. can't even run an orderly transition of power, let alone project its soft power internationally.

  • The Trump administration is attempting to crack down on Chinese companies as a way of punishing the Chinese Communist Party. But it has done so in such an incompetent manner that it has hurt itself more than the Chinese.

The big picture: China has decisively rejected its obligation under international law to allow democracy in Hong Kong until 2047. It has cracked down on powerful domestic billionaires, foremost among them Alibaba's Jack Ma. And it has done all of this with near impunity, blithely signing a major investment treaty with the EU against the clear objections of both the outgoing and incoming U.S. administrations.

The other side: U.S. attempts to constrain China look like "a driverless clown car careening into a ditch," per Sinocism's Bill Bishop.

  • Remember when Trump banned TikTok, forcing the Chinese-owned app to be deleted from app stores as of Sept. 20 of last year? Well, it's still Chinese-owned, and it's still in app stores. A new executive order targeting apps including Alipay is likely to be similarly ineffective.
  • The listing fiasco is a national embarrassment: The government was so unclear in what it wanted that the New York Stock Exchange first announced the delisting of three major Chinese companies, then changed its mind and said they could remain listed after all, and then changed its mind again and said no, they were going to be delisted.
  • More chaos is likely: More companies, including Alibaba and Tencent, could be added to the list, even as Alibaba plans a multi-billion-dollar bond sale in the U.S. And don't be surprised if there's yet another volte-face after Jan. 21, when the Biden Administration starts to reverse Trump-era overreach.

Be smart: There’s chaos in China, too, though censorship and information control hide much of it. And the U.S. still boasts a robust civil society and a strong, if somewhat battered, economy.

The bottom line: Trump came into office four years ago proclaiming a new era of strength and authority. That has now arrived — in China. Meanwhile, Trump's own government has collapsed to the point of constitutional crisis.

Go deeper

China sanctions top Trump alumni one day after Uyghur genocide determination

Photo: Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

China's Foreign Ministry announced Wednesday it would sanction 28 "anti-China" U.S. politicians, including a slew of top officials from the outgoing Trump administration such as former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former national security adviser John Bolton and former chief strategist Steve Bannon.

Between the lines, via Axios China expert Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian: Chinese government officials have traditionally decried the use of unilateral sanctions by Western countries, even though China regularly blocks foreign companies and individuals from its markets for perceived political slights.

Jan 19, 2021 - World

Top DOJ official John Demers on the agency's China Initiative

Assistant Attorney General John Demers speaks at a press conference on Oct. 19, 2020. Photo credit: Andrew Harnik/Getty Images.

John Demers, the assistant attorney general at the Department of Justice's National Security Division who leads the department's China Initiative, spoke with Axios about his view on the initiative's progress since its launch in 2018 and what he hopes to see in the coming year as Biden assumes office.

The big picture: The China Initiative made headlines with dozens of major indictments but also sparked controversy over its targeting of scientists with links to the Chinese government.

Jan 19, 2021 - World

What Biden's top administration picks signal about his China strategy

Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Early indicators suggest the Biden administration may continue to pursue a robust China strategy that reaches across multiple government departments and agencies.

Why it matters: Though the Trump administration's approach to China was often controversial, there is broad bipartisan agreement that China poses a major challenge to U.S. interests and values.