Archive For September 23, 2021

How Japanese Breakfast Crafted The Sounds Of The New Game ‘Sable’

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How Japanese Breakfast Crafted The Sounds Of The New Game ‘Sable’

The new game Sable features a soundtrack from Michelle Zauner, best known as the indie-rock star behind the band Japanese Breakfast.

Courtesy of Shedworks

Courtesy of Shedworks

“I grew up playing video games, since I was probably five years old,” says Michelle Zauner, better known as the brilliant songwriter behind Japanese Breakfast. Her and her dad would play Super Nintendo together: “The two of us really loved this RPG [role-playing game] called Secrets of Mana. After school, at night in the den, we would play … I think that was the first time I realized that games could be a real art form.”

That love of games and the artistic talent she’s now famous for came together in Zauner’s latest project: composing the soundtrack for a new, open-world role-playing video game called Sable. Today on All Things Considered, Zauner explains her long history with games, the thematic inspirations behind her choices for the soundtrack (including some indirect help from Yo La Tengo) and how her work on it led to her writing “maybe the most beautiful song” she’s ever put pen to paper on.

Listen to the full story in the audio player above, and hear a piece from Zauner’s soundtrack below.

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5 Things To Know About Biden’s Quad Summit With Leaders of India, Australia and Japan

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5 Things To Know About Biden’s Quad Summit With Leaders of India, Australia and Japan

The last Quad meeting, in March, was virtual. President Biden, Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s prime minister (top right), Scott Morrison, Australia’s prime minister (bottom left), and Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, will meet in person in the U.S. on Friday.

Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg via Getty Images

When President Biden hosts the leaders of Japan, Australia and India at the White House on Friday, it will be part of a push, analysts say, to reorient U.S. foreign policy away from long wars and traditional alliances in Europe and instead focus on countering a fast-rising foe: China.

The four leaders will be meeting for the second time this year as part of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, founded in the aftermath of the 2004 Asian tsunami. In recent years, analysts say the group has emerged as the most important democratic bulwark against China’s burgeoning power.

Here are five things to know about Friday’s meeting.

It’s in person, and that’s a big deal in a pandemic

This is Biden’s first face-to-face summit with all the Quad leaders: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. For some of them, it’s a rare trip abroad during the pandemic. Modi visited Bangladesh in March, but this is his first trip beyond India’s immediate neighborhood since early 2020.

The Quad leaders met virtually back in March, and issued a joint statement about the importance of “the rule of law [and] freedom of navigation” — references to what all four countries consider as China’s illegitimate claims in the South China Sea. They also agreed to work together to try to boost the production and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.

This time, they’re expected to survey progress on vaccine exports and discuss further cooperation on 5G telecommunications technology, cyber security, maritime exercises and intelligence sharing.

“The stranglehold that China’s had on the manufacturing and development of certain technologies impacts all of our countries, so I see a lot of scope for [Quad] cooperation for emerging technologies and opening up new supply chains,” Richard M. Rossow, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, recently told reporters.

“I think the in-person Quad summit reflects a political reality that four countries who in a pandemic have seen their own significant levels of turmoil and losses individually but have come together to push capacity-building in times of crisis,” says New Delhi-based strategic affairs expert Shruti Pandalai. “In March, you set out a vision. This is about operationalizing that vision with deliverables.”

One of those deliverables is a ramped-up supply of COVID-19 vaccines for developing countries, which President Biden spoke about Wednesday at a virtual summit on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. “Our Quad partnership with India, Japan, and Australia is on track to help produce at least one billion vaccine doses in India to boost the global supply by the end of 2022,” he said.

Other deliverables may include a possible agreement to build secure semiconductor chip supply chains and fresh promises to reduce carbon emissions and boost clean energy.

Although Friday’s meeting will mark this particular group of leaders’ first time together in the same room, it’s almost sure to be their last: This will likely be Suga’s final overseas trip as Japanese premier. He effectively announced his resignation earlier this month. Parliament will pick his successor on Oct. 4.

The Quad is not a military pact

While the U.S. has defense treaties with Japan and Australia, India is not a U.S. treaty ally, and India has historically resisted joining security alliances.

The Quad countries periodically conduct joint military exercises, but the group isn’t a military alliance. There’s no formal defense pact. It’s more of a loose strategic partnership, with China as the focus — though officials aren’t always explicit about that.

“What we are pursuing is not a monolithic, unified, NATO-type collective security alliance,” says Kunihiko Miyake, a special advisor to Japan’s cabinet and former diplomat. “Rather, it’s a multilayered system, consisting of various groupings and entities.” The Quad and other entities, such as the “Five Eyes” intelligence sharing group and the newly formed AUKUS, share certain values and objectives — one of which is to send a message of deterrence to Beijing.

The Quad is all about China

Broadly, the Quad’s biggest concern is the perceived challenge to maritime security posed by China in the Indo-Pacific region. Beijing has built military installations on reclaimed islands in the South China Sea — a key global waterway and trade route. Quad members see that as a potential threat to free trade and travel.

And all four Quad countries have their own specific gripes with Beijing.

India and China share the world’s longest undemarcated border, where in June 2020, 20 Indian troops were killed in hand-to-hand combat with Chinese soldiers. The clash prompted India to retaliate off the battlefield, banning dozens of Chinese-owned apps, including TikTok.

Australia’s ties with China deteriorated after Canberra called for an investigation into the theory that a Wuhan lab may have leaked the virus responsible for the global COVID-19 pandemic. The two countries have also been mired in trade disputes and exchanged tariffs.

Earlier this month, tensions with China spiked further when Australia announced the AUKUS security pact with the United States and United Kingdom. Under the deal, Australia will receive U.S.-made nuclear-powered submarines — which it will likely use to patrol waters near China.

Japan has its own maritime dispute with China: Both countries lay claim to the Senkaku (as Japan calls them) or Diaoyu Islands (as China calls them) in the East China Sea.

Washington is particularly worried about what China’s maritime claims mean for trade. In 2019, nearly $2 trillion worth of U.S. trade passed through Indo-Pacific waters. Ties with Beijing soured in recent years under former President Donald Trump, who engaged in a tit-for-tat tariff war with Beijing.

But China remains a key trading partner for all the Quad countries. So they need to proceed with caution. And China, unsurprisingly, is not pleased with the Quad’s aims, analysts say.

“China has tried to portray the Quad as a clique that embraces a Cold War zero-sum mentality set on confronting China, as a military alliance that seeks to promote instability in the Indo-Pacific region,” says Bonny Lin, director of the China Power Project at CSIS. “China has also tried to portray the Quad as a group led by the U.S. with the other three actors, essentially, as what China calls ‘U.S. pawns.'”

Current and former U.S. officials reject that characterization.

“I see this as a deterrent to not just a Cold War, but actually to an outbreak of conflict,” Paula J. Dobriansky, a former U.S. undersecretary of state now at the Atlantic Council, told reporters. “I think that the intent is really to provide a kind of counterweight… a kind of collective security arrangement and a type of deterrent to ensure that the types of conflicts that we have witnessed do not get out of control.”

The Quad is also about climate change — and Afghanistan

Friday’s summit takes place ahead of another big global meeting, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26, planned for Glasgow, Scotland, in November. Back in March, the Quad leaders created a climate working group to discuss carbon emissions, renewable energy goals and coal usage in thermal power plants.

India is a big focus of those talks. It’s the world’s third-largest carbon emitter, behind China and the U.S., but is expected to account for the largest share of global energy demand growth through 2050. The U.S. wants to encourage India to eschew coal in favor of cleaner technology. To that end, Biden’s special envoy for climate, John Kerry, visited India for talks earlier this month.

The timing of the Quad summit, right after the U.S.’s chaotic pullout from Afghanistan, is also designed to send a message about Biden’s new foreign policy priorities, analysts say. When Biden spoke at the United Nations General Assembly this week, he said it was the first time in 20 years that the U.S. is not at war.

But some Quad members, particularly India, are now worried about China’s influence in Afghanistan. India fears Afghanistan may become another link in China’s Belt and Road Initiative. India is not part of that global infrastructure network, but its archrival Pakistan is — and there are fears that the world’s largest democracy may be increasingly encircled by Chinese projects.

The Quad’s purpose is still evolving

The Quad began as a relief group after the 2004 Asian earthquake and tsunami killed hundreds of thousands of people across the Indo-Pacific. But in recent years, it’s taken on increased significance as a counterweight to China’s growing power in the region.

“Over the last decade, China has become much more powerful, much stronger, and it has also become much more belligerent,” says Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, director of the Centre for Security, Strategy and Technology at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi. “All of this Chinese behavior has pushed many more countries to come together.”

Much of the thinking for the Quad originally came from former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during his first administration in 2007. But there are competing visions of what the group should do.

Yoshihide Soeya, a professor emeritus at Keio University in Tokyo, says the dominant vision is of the U.S. and Japan leading a coalition to contain or counterbalance China. A less popular interpretation is that the Quad is a collaboration of Asia’s “middle powers” to promote shared interests, such as fighting COVID and climate change.

Soeya sees the dominant interpretation gaining ground as the Quad evolves, but disagrees with it.

“The more you emphasize the China threat, the more you become dependent on the U.S,” he says. And “if this is the only thing which Japan is interested in, then I think our so-called ‘strategic autonomy’ will be lost.”

The Quad’s various goals echo the Biden administration’s stated intention to collaborate with China where it can — such as on climate change — compete where it should, such as in new technologies, and confront China where it must, over Beijing’s perceived aggression toward its neighbors.

The problem, critics argue, is that China says it will not collaborate with anyone it considers hostile. And China considers the Quad to be aimed at containing its rise — so the four Quad members will have to tread lightly.

NPR’s Michele Kelemen contributed to this story from Washington, D.C.

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Sketches Of Tain: Music And Stories From Drummer Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts

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Sketches Of Tain: Music And Stories From Drummer Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts

Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts and Jazz Night host, Christian McBride

Trevor Smith/Trevor Smith

Trevor Smith/Trevor Smith

Over the past year, Jazz Night‘s Crate Digging series has been an opportunity for host Christian McBride to share some special concerts from the Jazz at Lincoln Center archives, often featuring master musicians who have left us. This latest edition of the series, however, shines a light on a master who is very much of the now: drummer and composer Jeff “Tain” Watts.

For 40 years, “Tain” has remained a supremely consequential drummer in the music — evolving the language of jazz drumming during his time as sideman to both Wynton and Branford Marsalis and as a bandleader, as we’ll hear in this 2002 concert.

Christian also caught up with Watts at his home in Eastern Pennsylvania back in 2019 for a spirited and career-spanning conversation. We’ll hear stories about his formative years in Pittsburgh, his portrayal of Rhythm Jones in Spike Lee’s Mo’ Better Blues, and how his time on the road with the Marsalises changed him.

“It just put a sense of responsibility on me that I carry to this day — to try to be deserving and true to the music.” says Watts. “I tried to come up with some vocabulary that was different and that would make the swing idiom more present and alive.”

Musicians:

Jeff “Tain” Watts, drums, vocals; Ravi Coltrane, tenor saxophone; Jaleel Shaw, alto saxophone; David Budway, piano; Paul Bollenback, guitar; John Benitez, bass; Joe Locke, vibraphone; Luisito Quintero, percussion

Set List:

  • The Impaler (Jeff “Tain” Watts)
  • Wry Koln (Watts)
  • Vodville (Watts)
  • Attainment (Watts)

Credits:

Writer and Producer: Trevor Smith; Host: Christian McBride; Music Recording: Murray Street Productions; Project Manager: Suraya Mohamed; Senior Producer: Katie Simon; Executive Producers: Anya Grundmann and Gabrielle Armand.

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U.S. Businesses In China Confident Despite Pandemic And Stagnant Bilateral Relations

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U.S. Businesses In China Confident Despite Pandemic And Stagnant Bilateral Relations

BEIJING — American firms are the most confident they have been about their business prospects in China since before a damaging U.S.-China trade war began, according to a survey just released by the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, a strong sign that business between the two countries has improved despite a global coronavirus pandemic and stagnant bilateral relations.

The survey of 338 U.S. companies operating in China found 59.5% of them had actually increased their investments in China over the last year. 82.2% of companies predicted they would achieve revenue growth for the full year this year, a pace that has not been matched since 2018, the year before the U.S. and China began putting retaliatory tariffs on each other’s exports.

“The tenor is optimism,”said Jeffrey Lehman, the chair of the board of governors of the American Chamber in Shanghai. “People are hopeful that things will get better, but they are waiting and seeing.”

The positive findings are at odds with the tense political relationship between the U.S. and China, with the two countries clashing over cybersecurity, technological standards, human rights, and trade. President Joe Biden is now pushing the U.S. and its allies to confront and contain China’s growing political and economic clout.

“China has to start to act more responsibly in terms of international norms on human rights and transparency,” Biden said this past June after a G7 meeting. “Transparency matters across the board.”

Despite this heated political rhetoric between the U.S. and China, the American Chamber in Shanghai said the negative impact of a worsening relationship fell unevenly on members.

“Fifty percent [of U.S. companies] are producing goods and services that are sold here in China – the majority is in China, for China. That means we shouldn’t be surprised by the relative stability,” said Lehman.

Covid travel restrictions have also significantly boosted American luxury retail sales in China because no one can travel internationally anymore, says Jeff Yuan of PricewaterhouseCoopers, which helped compile the report. Low Covid infection numbers allowed the Chinese economy to open up sooner than in other countries, including in the U.S., and leading to better performance among American firms in China than globally, said Yuan.

A nose dive in U.S.-China relations three years ago and rising Chinese labor costs prompted some American firms to explore setting up offices and production facilities in Southeast Asia. But an exodus of foreign companies out of China has not materialized, even as Covid lockdowns in Chinese shipping ports temporarily clogged up exports.

“Speculation that some U.S. companies might move production or supply chains out of China in the aftermath of Covid proved unfounded,” the chamber wrote in its report. The chamber said of its 125 surveyed companies who manufacture in China, 72% had no plans to shift any production out of China in the next three years.

American companies still face hurdles in China. They are struggling to bring in new employees and their families into mainland China, which still maintains strict closures of its international borders for epidemic control reasons.

Chinese regulators have also unleashed a barrage of regulation on the country’s media, education, technology, video gaming, and property sectors in a multipronged effort to bring down debt levels, introduce greater Communist Party control over cultural production, and tamp down social inequality.

Ker Gibbs, the chamber’s president, expressed cautious optimism about the future of American business in China but warned this wave of Chinese regulation could “narrow the space in which companies can operate,” again.

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