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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

Jan 29, 2021 - World

WHO team visits China hospital that treated first COVID-19 patients

Members of the WHO team investigating the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images

A World Health Organization team of researchers on Friday visited a hospital in Wuhan where China says some of the first coronavirus patients were treated, AP reports.

Why it matters: Friday marks the first in-person day of the team's investigation into the origin of the coronavirus pandemic, almost a year since the first cases were reported.

Former Georgetown tennis coach pleads guilty to accepting admissions bribes

Gordon Ernst (left) former head tennis coach at Georgetown, is pictured outside the John Joseph Moakley United State Courthouse in Boston on March 25, 2019. Photo: Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

A former Georgetown University head tennis coach has pleaded guilty Tuesday to bribery charges related to facilitating the admission of prospective applicants.

Why it matters: Gordon Ernst solicited and accepted bribes from William Singer, ringleader of the cheating scheme uncovered by Operation Varsity Blues, and families in exchange for helping prospective applicants get into Georgetown as student athletes, according to the Justice Department.

3 hours ago - Health

CDC says some immunocompromised people can get fourth COVID shot

Photo: Noriko Hayashi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in updated guidelines Tuesday that some immunocompromised people who have received either Pfizer or Moderna's COVID-19 vaccines will be able to get a fourth shot.

Details: People over 18 who are "moderately to severely immunocompromised" and have received three doses of an mRNA vaccine may get a fourth shot (of either the Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson vaccines) at least six months after getting their third Pfizer or Moderna dose, per the CDC.