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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Poland's arrest of a Huawei executive on charges of spying for China escalates an already-fraught dimension of the turbulent new era of geopolitics.

The big picture: A spate of arrests has broken out, with detentions of Americans and Canadians in China, Iran and Russia, and Chinese people jailed in Canada and now Poland. It appears to be unprecedented — political hostage-taking amid a modern trade war.

  • As we’ve reported, the tit-for-tat jailings in part suggest a new stage of hostility in the U.S.-China race for technological and economic dominance in the coming decades.
  • “The Chinese have set a very troubling precedent. You don’t like it when one of your citizens gets arrested, you nab a few folks from that country," said Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group. 

Driving the news: Poland announced today that it had arrested a man it identified only as "Weijing W.," a former diplomat in China's consulate in Gdansk. Authorities there said they also detained a former Polish security official, and charged both with spying for China, per AP.

  • Given China's actions to date, the Polish arrest seems bound to trigger a ferocious response from Beijing.
  • Already, China on Monday will begin trying Robert Schellenberg, a Canadian facing the death penalty for alleged international drug trafficking.
  • Schellenberg is one of three Canadians whom China has jailed since Dec. 1, when Canada arrested a senior Huawei official on charges of violating sanctions against Iran, reports the Globe and Mail. Huawei's chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, is out on bail now.
"It’s the first time to my knowledge that tariffs and a trade war have led to arrests/de facto hostage taking."
— Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group

Thought bubble from Bill Bishop, writer of Axios China: "There is not a big Polish population in China, and I don’t want to say anything irresponsible. But if I were a Pole in China, I would be nervous."

The practice is broader:

Wrapped up in spying and general longstanding rivalry, the Iran and Russia cases differ from the U.S.-China-Canada cases.

  • But they resemble each other in being part of how geopolitics is played now.
  • The "risk is once this becomes a tit for tat process, it provokes a downward spiral in relations that is tough to break," said Stephen Hadley, former national security adviser to George W. Bush.

Ivo Daalder, president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, said President Trump had erred by publicizing when hostages have been released. "Such public attention elevates the importance of hostages and gives nefarious actors an incentive to capture Americans in order to draw attention to their demands and causes," he said.

Go deeper: A new era of hostility in the U.S.-China fight

Go deeper

Report: Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer to retire

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer will retire, NBC news first reported on Wednesday, giving President Biden his first — and maybe only — chance to put a stamp on the high court.

What’s next: Appointing a new Supreme Court justice will be one of the longest-lasting pieces of Biden’s legacy — and could give Democrats a jolt of energy ahead of next year's midterms.

Schools desperate for substitute teachers

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

School districts and officials nationwide are begging parents to step in, loosening requirements for substitute teachers and, in one case, asking the National Guard for help as last-ditch efforts to stay open amid the latest COVID-19 surge.

Why it matters: Substitute teachers have emerged as a vital part of schools' reopening efforts, but they are in short supply after years of being overlooked and undervalued.

The future of retail: more self-service

Zliide makes a tag that attaches to clothing for self-checkout in retail stores. Photo: Jennifer A. Kingson/Axios.

Self-checkout, self-service, autonomous stores, DIY: The retail world is prepping for a future with fewer human workers and more technology involved in selling us stuff.

Why it matters: While 72% of retail sales are still expected to take place in brick-and-mortar stores in 2024, merchants are busy installing interactive signage, smart price tags, and remote checkout systems that point to a very different customer experience.