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!

Stay on top of the latest market trends

Subscribe to Axios Markets for the latest market trends and economic insights. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with Axios Sports. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

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!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of 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!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of 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!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of 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!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of 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!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of 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: Sarah Grillo/Axios

For decades, the U.S. and China have circled uneasily as current and future global superpowers. Now, President Trump's continued escalation of actions against Beijing threatens to push the two powers close to direct conflict.

Driving the news: This week, the U.S. took perhaps its most provocative action yet, springing a trap in Belgium that captured Yanjun Xu, a senior Chinese intelligence operative, and arraigning him in Cincinnati for economic espionage. This afternoon, Xu pleaded not guilty.

  • The Xu arrest was the first such U.S. action against Beijing.
  • Were the situation reversed — and a U.S. spy be on trial in China — it would create a major political crisis in the U.S., and possibly put the countries on a war footing.
  • Thought bubble from Axios China author Bill Bishop: Expect a reaction soon from Beijing, quite possibly including the arrest of an American in China as a spy.

The big picture: This was only one of three substantial U.S. escalations against China this week. The Trump administration also tightened scrutiny of Chinese investment in U.S. technology, and issued new restrictions on the sale of civilian nuclear technology to Beijing.

  • Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping may meet next month at the G20 meeting in Buenos Aires, the WSJ reports.

But the trio of actions — coming after last month's enactment of tariffs on half of Chinese exports to the U.S., amounting to $250 billion — amounts to a significant intensification of the U.S. offensive against Beijing.

  • The White House asserts that it is only seeking redress after a wholesale Chinese assault on the U.S. and Western economies through the theft and extortion of intellectual property.
  • And some dangle hope that the relationship can return to what it was once trade and IP issues are resolved.
  • But many experts say relations are forever changed — and that the risk of an outbreak of war is growing. "As confrontation increases, the path to conflict is very short because the space to talk has been reduced or even eliminated," Gen. John Allen, president of the Brookings Institution, tells Axios.
"As it turns out trade wars are not easy, as some have proclaimed.  And when you have the two most consequential nations on the planet trading increasingly damaging blows, accompanied with increasingly inflammatory rhetoric, the race to the bottom will be harmful to Americans and Chinese alike."
Gen. John Allen

The bottom line: One worrying thing is that, while Trump has sought to force U.S. allies to join the offensive, it has failed to do the diplomacy to create that kind of united front.

  • If Trump's team is seeking "to out-compete China for global influence, it needs to reengage our allies and friends and gain their support for a common strategy. None of that is happening," says Ivo Daalder, president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and co-author of the forthcoming “The Empty Throne: America’s Abdication of Global Leadership.”
  • "This is all doomed to failure, not because China is strong, but because this weakens the U.S. and shifts the world economy away from us," Adam Posen, president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, tells Axios. 
  • "Those who will suffer will be emerging markets and U.S. consumers, with no military advantage gained."

Go deeper

It's harder to fill the Cabinet

Data: Chamberlain, 2020, "United States of America Cabinet Appointments Dataset" Chart: Will Chase/Axios

It's harder now for presidents to win Senate confirmation for their Cabinet picks, an Axios data analysis of votes for and against nominees found.

Why it matters: It's not just Neera Tanden. The trend is a product of growing polarization, rougher political discourse and slimming Senate majorities, experts say. It means some of the nation's most vital federal agencies go without a leader and the legislative authority that comes with one.

Exclusive: Hundreds of kids held in Border Patrol stations

Migrants cross the Rio Bravo to get to El Paso, Texas. Photo: Herika Martinez/AFP via Getty Images

More than 700 children who crossed from Mexico into the United States without their parents were in Border Patrol custody as of Sunday, according to an internal Customs and Border Protection document obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: The current backup is yet another sign of a brewing crisis for President Biden — and a worsening dilemma for these vulnerable children. Biden is finding it's easier to talk about preventing warehousing kids at the southern border than solving the problem.

Pompeo plots 2024 power play

Mike Pompeo in Washington on Feb. 12. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Mike Pompeo has quickly reentered the political fray, raising money for Republicans, addressing key political gatherings and joining an advocacy group run by Donald Trump's former lawyer.

Why it matters: The former secretary of state is widely considered a potential 2024 presidential contender. His professional moves this week indicate he's working to keep his name in the headlines and bolster a political brand built largely on foreign policies easily contrasted with the Biden White House.