July 18, 2023

Hello, Tuesday! Smart Brevity™ count: 1,397 words ... 5 mins. Edited by Emma Loop.

🇨🇳 1 big thing: China's Shadow Empire, Part 1

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Völkner/ullstein bild and Toru Yamanaka/AFP via Getty Images

Axios China reporter Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian today begins a series showing surprising ways Beijing is trying to reshape global power, in corners of the world that were historically contested or colonized. The series is supported by the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting.

OKINAWA, Japan This Japanese island, situated halfway between China and Japan and just an hour's flight from Taiwan, is caught in the middle of the U.S.-China competition for global influence.

  • Why it matters: Okinawa's 1.5 million residents fear a war between superpowers over Taiwan will bring devastation again.

State of play: The U.S. sees Okinawa as imperative to its defense strategy in the Pacific. The island could be a staging ground in a future conflict with China over Taiwan.

  • Beijing views the U.S. military presence on Okinawa as an enormous security risk that hinders the Chinese navy’s ambitions to operate far beyond its territorial waters.

What's happening: Last month for the first time since taking office, Chinese President Xi Jinping publicly highlighted historical ties between Okinawa and China.

  • His remarks were featured on the front page of the Chinese Communist Party’s main newspaper, the People’s Daily.

The rhetoric fueled speculation that China is sending a message to Japan to stay out of the Taiwan conflict — and that Beijing is trying to drive a wedge between Okinawa and Tokyo by echoing a small but vocal Okinawan independence movement.

Map: Jacque Schrag and Will Chase/Axios
Map: Jacque Schrag and Will Chase/Axios

🖼️ The big picture: China has sought to establish diplomatic, military and economic dominance in the Indo-Pacific, often eroding international legal and democratic norms.

  • China has expanded its military activities in the region, including sending an aircraft carrier fleet between two islands in Okinawa prefecture late last year.
  • The U.S. has responded to Beijing's growing assertiveness by boosting its own presence in the region.

But Okinawans say they don't want to be at the center of a great power conflict again.

  • Okinawa's governor, Denny Tamaki, told Axios in an interview: "In the Second World War, Okinawa suffered huge damage. So it is our understanding that this kind of atrocity must never happen again."
  • "[Okinawans] firmly believe that we must avoid a situation in which issues over the Taiwan Strait get out of hand," he added.

In the past six months, Tamaki has visited both Washington and Beijing. Tamaki said Okinawa can "contribute to the easing of tensions" by pursuing peaceful ties with China.

2. 🗳️ Manchin stokes '24 buzz

Manchin speaks yesterday at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H. Photo: Reuters

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said in New Hampshire last evening that he hasn't decided whether to run for president as an independent in 2024 — but that if he does, "I'm gonna win."

  • Why it matters: Some top Democrats fear that if Manchin entered the race, he'd draw enough votes from President Biden to hand the contest to the GOP nominee — perhaps former President Trump.

Manchin, 75, was asked about that risk during a town hall hosted by the centrist group No Labels, which has signaled it might back a third-party candidate, Axios' Erin Doherty reports.

  • "I've never been in any race I've ever spoiled," said Manchin, who is up for reelection next year but hasn't said whether he'll run for Senate. "If I get in a race, I'm gonna win. With that being said, I haven’t made a decision."

Manchin, who has relished the speculation for months, told CNN last night that Biden has "been pushed too far left."

  • "He knows that," Manchin said. "And we're still friends. We can talk."
  • Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, called Manchin "America’s biggest political tease."

🔎 Between the lines: Manchin is "striking at the heart of a Biden reelection message that casts today’s GOP as radically different from Democrats and even from its traditional self," the Washington Post notes.

  • "In Manchin’s telling, the two parties are all too similar."

No Labels co-founder Nancy Jacobson has called the group's efforts to secure ballot access for a third-party candidate "Insurance Policy 2024."

3. ✈️ Biden's FAA pick

Mike Whitaker, chief commercial officer of Supernal, at the Air-One vertiport in Coventry, England, last year. Photo: Chris J. Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden is preparing to name Mike Whitaker — a former top FAA official under President Obama who's now trying to develop "flying taxis" — to lead the FAA as soon as this week, Axios' Hans Nichols reports.

  • Why it matters: Whitaker, if confirmed by the Senate, would inherit an agency facing perils ranging from responding to extreme weather that's roiling airlines, to a shortage of air-traffic controllers.

The FAA, which has 45,000 employees, has been without a permanent leader since early 2022.

  • Whitaker, a former airline executive who learned to fly while he was deputy FAA administrator under Obama, is the chief commercial officer of Supernal, a Hyundai subsidiary developing a flying taxi.

💭 Our thought bubble, from Axios transportation correspondent Joann Muller: An administrator with a focus on next-generation aviation, like flying taxis and drones, will be important as the skies get more crowded.

  • But for now, the priority has to be improving the flow of existing air traffic.

Share this story.

4. 📷 1,000 words

Photo: Alina Smutko/Reuters

USAID Administrator Samantha Power plays with Patron — a famous Ukrainian bomb-sniffing Jack Russell Terrier — during a Kyiv visit yesterday.

5. 🌡️ No safe port in climate storm

National Park Service rangers pose with an unofficial heat reading at Furnace Creek Visitor Center in Death Valley, Calif., on Sunday. Photo: Ronda Churchill/AFP via Getty Images

Fatal flooding in the Northeast. Blistering heat waves in the South and Southwest. Wildfire smoke pouring in from Canada.

  • Why it matters: This summer's extreme weather shows that no corner of the U.S. is immune to the effects of a rapidly warming planet, Axios' Alex Fitzpatrick and Andrew Freedman report.

Case in point: The recent catastrophic flooding in Vermont — a state that often ranks high on lists of so-called "climate havens."

  • Nine inches of rain fell in parts of the Green Mountain State in just a couple of days.

🔎 Between the lines: As the climate warms, the air can hold more moisture.

🥊 Reality check: Huge numbers of Americans are flocking to the country's fastest-warming cities, including Phoenix.

6. ☀️ Hot job: 3 cities have "chief heat officer"

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

When Miami-Dade County, Phoenix and L.A. appointed chief heat officers in 2021 and 2022, it was expected that other major U.S. cities would quickly follow — but none have, Axios' Jennifer A. Kingson reports.

  • Why it matters: Cities are getting caught flat-footed — without a heat plan, or with responses siloed in different departments.

What's happening: It can be hard to fund the position.

  • Many cities, including New York and Boston, manage heat response with emergency services departments, or offices of resilience or sustainability.

Share this story ... Go deeper: Read about Phoenix's CHO.

7. 📚 Detroit rises 10 years after collapse

Photo illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios. Photos: Bloomberg, Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

Detroit hit rock bottom 10 years ago today — on July 18, 2013 — as the largest U.S. city ever to file for bankruptcy, writes Joe Guillen of Axios Detroit.

  • Why it matters: The crisis forced Detroit to confront decades of decline that left it awash in debt and unable to provide basic services.

The Motor City has made a remarkable comeback, with major economic development projects, blight removal and neighborhood investment.

Flashback: With debts climbing over $18 billion, Detroit could no longer pay its bills.

  • Police response times approached an hour. Abandoned buildings blanketed neighborhoods. Tax rates were maxed out, leaving officials without options.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes implored Detroiters to remember the collapse when he approved the city's exit strategy in 2014:

  • "Your enduring and collective memory of what happened here, and your memory of your anger about it, will be exactly what will prevent this from ever happening again."

🥊 Reality check: Detroit's population cratered from a postwar height of 1.85 million to 685,000 just before bankruptcy. Now, it's 620,000.

  • Many longtime residents still cope with poverty, crime and blight.

Get Axios Detroit ... Try a newsletter from 29 other Axios Local cities.

8. 🛸 Unidentified floating object

Via Twitter

The Australian Space Agency is trying to find the origin of this giant metal dome — the size of a small car — found by locals on a beach 155 miles from Perth in Western Australia.

  • "The object could be from a foreign space launch vehicle and we are liaising with global counterparts," the agency said.

An aviation expert told the BBC it might be a fuel tank from a rocket.

  • Authorities warn people to stay away.

📨 Thanks for starting your week with us. Please invite your friends to sign up.