U.S. and China sign trade deal
President Trump signed an initial agreement with China, a first step in ending an 18-month trade war between the world’s two largest economies. But crucially, its success hinges on whether China will follow through on its commitments.
The agreement is intended to open Chinese markets to more American goods, and it includes concessions to protect U.S. technology and trade secrets. Beijing also agreed not to devalue its currency, the renminbi, to gain an advantage in export markets.
But the agreement preserves the bulk of the tariffs placed on Chinese goods, and even threatens more.
What’s not included: Beijing’s subsidies for key industries like solar and steel — a practice critics blame for putting American companies out of business.
Analysis: The underwhelming deal shows that these two powerful antagonists can achieve the basic steps of deal making, our economics correspondent writes. While there are no guarantees of permanence, it’s progress nonetheless.
Related: Companies have long accused Chinese rivals of swiping or seizing valuable technology. Beijing has promised to ban those practices, but enforcement could be tough.
Putin overhauls Russia’s government
President Vladimir Putin upended the country’s political elite by proposing sweeping constitutional changes that could extend his hold on power for years, leading to the abrupt resignation of Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev and his cabinet.
It was not immediately evident whether the resignations signaled a rift at the top of Russia’s hierarchy or if they were part of a coordinated plan to reshape the system. Under current law, Mr. Putin must step down in 2024.
Mr. Putin and Mr. Medvedev have choreographed moves in the past: In 2008, when Mr. Putin last faced term limits, Mr. Medvedev was elected president and Mr. Putin became prime minister, though he remained the real power in the government. He then returned to the presidency in 2012, when Mr. Medvedev became prime minister.
What’s next: Some experts said Mr. Putin could be contemplating a return to the prime minister’s office, but this time at the helm of a newly empowered Parliament. Others saw signs that he intended to create a system similar to that in Kazakhstan, where the longtime president stepped down but took the new title of “leader of the people.”
Iran lashes out against Europeans
President Hassan Rouhani of Iran warned that American and European troops could be in “danger” after Britain, Germany and France accused the country of reneging on the commitments it made in the 2015 nuclear deal.
The European countries started a dispute mechanism in the deal, the first step toward reimposing United Nations sanctions. Although Mr. Rouhani threatened to aggravate tensions, he left room for negotiation, noting that Iran’s recent steps to increase its nuclear activities were reversible.
Background: The European signatories to the deal have been trying to keep it afloat since President Trump pulled out in 2018 and imposed new sanctions on Iran.
What it means: The clock is now running on what could be some 60 days of negotiations with Iran about coming back into full compliance. If the sides cannot resolve their dispute, the sanctions will be revived.
If you have 6 minutes, this is worth it
Japanese paternity leave
Shinjiro Koizumi, a Japanese politician seen as a possible future prime minister, made waves when he said he would briefly step back from his duties to care for his newborn child. In Japan, fathers rarely take advantage of generous leave policies. Above, Mr. Koizumi with his partner, Christel Takigawa, in August.
“Child care leave will not be prevalent,” wrote Mr. Koizumi, “unless we change not only the system, but the atmosphere as well.”
Here’s what else is happening
Impeachment: The case against President Trump is finally heading to the U.S. Senate, which will decide whether to remove him from office. It’s not yet clear if Republican senators will allow new witnesses to be called.
Climate change: Last year was the second-hottest on record, closing out the warmest decade on record, according to new research by U.S. government scientists.
Evolution: Two billion years ago, simple cells gave way to far more complex building blocks. Biologists have struggled for decades to learn how it happened — and a strange microbe living in ocean muck may be a missing link.
Snapshot: Above, Medd Café in Jeddah, a Saudi coffee shop where men and women can mingle. Such cafes became popular after the government relaxed gender segregation rules, but not everyone is happy.
What we’re answering in the form of a question: J! Archive, a fan-created compilation of more than 380,000 clues that have appeared on “Jeopardy!” After the game show’s “greatest of all time” tournament, it’s a terrific way to test your knowledge against past champions, says Richard Pérez-Peña, an editor in our London newsroom (and a former contestant himself).
Now, a break from the news
Smarter Living: Think you’re not creative? Maybe you just haven’t given yourself permission.
And now for the Back Story on …
Invasion of the kumquats
Just as tinsel and Christmas lights signal the start of festive seasons in Europe and North America, the mass delivery of potted kumquat trees is a sign that Lunar New Year is coming to East Asia.
The timing of the holiday, which typically starts on the second new moon after winter solstice, varies from year to year. But the region’s annual kumquat influx makes it hard to miss.
Kumquat trees, which have bright orange fruits and belong to the genus Fortunella, are widely seen as harbingers of good fortune. They are often displayed in homes and office lobbies, such as The Times’s Asia headquarters in Hong Kong.
Seeing Hong Kong’s kumquats before this year’s Lunar New Year, which falls on Jan. 25, reminded your Back Story writer of living in Vietnam, where swarms of motorbike drivers deliver the trees through city streets.
The visual of moving tapestries of orange orbs resembles a citrusy variation on “The Gates,” an art installation in which Central Park in New York was filled with undulating sheets of saffron-colored fabric in 2005.
That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.
To Mark Josephson and Eleanor Stanford for the break from the news. Mike Ives, on the Briefings team, wrote today’s Back Story. You can reach the team at [email protected]
• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is about Russian hacking efforts and the 2020 election.
• Here’s our Mini Crossword, and a clue: Richard of “Pretty Woman” (four letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• Louis Silverstein, an art director for The Times, introduced new graphic design elements between the 1960s and ’80s that continue to shape our style.