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Image: The National Endowment for Democracy

A senior Biden administration official used the term "sharp power" last week in a phone call with reporters to describe China's coercive activities around the globe.

Why it matters: The phrase hints at the administration's intellectual influences as they formulate new U.S. policies toward China.

  • "Sharp power" is a term coined in a December 2017 report by the National Endowment for Democracy to describe how Russia and China use covert and coercive means to gain political influence abroad, particularly within democratic countries.

Background: In the 2010s, analysts worked to come up with accurate ways to describe the techniques China and Russia were honing to manipulate global perceptions and political environments in their favor.

  • The NED report was quite influential, and the term "sharp power" soon became well known among specialists, though some criticized it as too broad.
  • The Trump administration seemed to mostly settle on the term "malign influence activities" to convey a similar idea, while others call it "authoritarian interference."

From the NED report: "Some of the most visible authoritarian influence techniques used by countries such as China and Russia, while not 'hard' in the openly coercive sense, are not really 'soft' either," wrote the report's authors. "This authoritarian influence is not principally about attraction or even persuasion; instead, it centers on distraction and manipulation."

  • "What we have to date understood as authoritarian 'soft power' is better categorized as 'sharp power' that pierces, penetrates, or perforates the political and information environments in the targeted countries."

Go deeper: Read the full NED report

Go deeper

Australia opposes UN report warning Great Barrier Reef is "in danger"

A green sea turtle swimming among the corals at Lady Elliot island, off the coast of Queensland, Australia. Photo: Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Great Barrier Reef should be included in a list of World Heritage Sites that are "in danger" from climate change, a United Nations committee said in a report Tuesday.

Yes, but: Australia's government said it will "strongly oppose" the recommendation by UNESCO's World Heritage Committee.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema: Abolishing filibuster would weaken "democracy's guardrails"

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema at the U.S. Capitol building earlier this month. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) defended her opposition to abolishing the 60-vote legislative filibuster in a Washington Post op-ed published Monday night, saying to do so would weaken "democracy's guardrails."

Why it matters: There have been growing calls from Democrats, particularly progressives, to overhaul the rules as the Senate prepares to vote Tuesday on a massive voting rights package. But Sinema writes in her op-ed that if this were to happen "we will lose much more than we gain."

Court blocks California assault weapons ban repeal

Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

A federal appeals court on Monday blocked a judge's ruling that overturned California's 30-year assault weapons ban.

Driving the news: U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez ruled earlier this month that the ban was unconstitutional and likened the AR-15 to a Swiss Army knife, but the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has now granted a stay, pending appeal.