John Ruwitch

China soon won't be the world's most populous country.

The government released data Tuesday from a once-a-decade census conducted late last year that shows population growth has slowed to a crawl. Meanwhile, the proportion of senior citizens in China has expanded, the cohort of working-age people is contracting, and births are down.

The data casts a fresh spotlight on one of the ruling Communist Party's biggest long-term socio-economic challenges as it turns 100 this year: How to keep the economy humming and incomes rising while the population shrinks and ages.

Taiwan's semiconductor-makers are racing to end a chip shortage that has forced carmakers to hit the brakes on production.

But the Taiwanese government's economic chief says it is still unclear when the crisis will be over.

Taiwan's Economy Minister Wang Mei-hua told NPR that Taiwanese microchip producers, such as world-leading Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., have boosted production this year and are filling more auto-related orders.

President Biden's climate envoy, John Kerry, and his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, agreed last week that China and the United States, the world's two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, should cooperate on tackling the climate crisis.

But with bilateral ties at their worst in decades, and few details emerging from their meeting in Shanghai, observers have been left to guess what that cooperation might look like.

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Judy Hoarfrost remembers the day she walked into China a half-century ago.

She was 15 and the youngest member of the U.S. pingpong team, which had been in Nagoya, Japan, competing in the World Championships. Two days before the tournament ended, Team China surprised the Americans with an invitation to come to their country and play some games.

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Before COVID-19, few scientists would have pegged the city of Wuhan, in temperate central China, as a likely starting point for a global coronavirus pandemic. Its climate and fauna don't fit the bill.

But the city of 11 million straddling the Yangtze River is home to some of China's most advanced biological research laboratories. And one of the secretive, state-run institutions, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, is known to conduct experiments on the kind of virus that has killed nearly 3 million people worldwide so far since late 2019.

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President Biden and the leaders of Australia, India and Japan launched a plan on Friday to boost COVID-19 vaccine production and distribution in Asia as the White House seeks to deepen coordination with partners around the world to counterbalance China.

The four countries, collectively known as the Quad, short for the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, also agreed to set up working groups to cooperate on vaccines, climate change and technology, including cybersecurity.

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President Biden will step up his efforts to counterbalance China through coordination with like-minded countries on Friday when he takes part in a first-of-its-kind summit with the leaders of Australia, India and Japan.

The four nations have cooperated on and off since the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 in an informal grouping known as the "Quad," short for the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue.

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The U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands sent a jubilant tweet on Monday, claiming to have "made some history today." He had welcomed Taiwan's de facto ambassador into the U.S. Embassy for a meeting.

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The Trump administration is imposing sharply tighter restrictions on travel to the United States by Chinese Communist Party members and their families, a move Beijing describes as part of a "deep-rooted Cold War mentality."

The restrictions target holders of business (B-1) and tourist (B-2) visas, reducing the travel documents' maximum validity to one month, down from the current maximum of 10 years.

Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a message of congratulations to President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday, saying he hopes China and the United States can focus on cooperation and keep their differences in check, according to Chinese state media.

The message comes three weeks after the election, making Xi one of the last major world leaders to wish the former U.S. vice president well.

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One early November morning, a Peking duck cook, several construction workers and a software engineer patiently lined up outside a Beijing vaccine facility, awaiting their turn to be injected with a coronavirus vaccine still awaiting regulatory approval.

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In his victory speech last night, President-elect Joe Biden noted that U.S. elections are viewed far beyond our borders.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

Two senior U.S. officials have visited Taiwan since August, one to discuss the pandemic and the other to attend a funeral.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Undersecretary of State Keith Krach were the highest-ranking U.S. officials to travel to Taiwan on business since 1979, when Washington cut relations with Taipei and recognized Beijing as the rightful government of China.

When the late Sen. John McCain of Arizona was in his 60s, a story came out that described a time when he was "physically mistreated by bad men who, for a while, kept [him] in prison." It was a reference to the five-and-a-half years he had spent in harsh captivity in Hanoi after his plane was shot down during the Vietnam War.

China has joined a global effort aimed at fair and equitable distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine once one becomes available — an effort the Trump administration has shunned.

The COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility, known as COVAX, is jointly led by the World Health Organization and Gavi, an alliance promoting access to vaccines.

Taiwan is not pursuing formal diplomatic ties with the United States for now, but there is "a lot" of room to further strengthen relations, Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said in an interview after unprecedented visits by two senior U.S. officials.

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In recent weeks, U.S.-China relations have unraveled with alarming speed, and some analysts say they are now at their worst since the two countries normalized diplomatic ties in 1979.

On Tuesday, the Trump administration ordered China's consulate in Houston to close, a step that significantly amps up the tension in already fraught relations between the world's top two economies.

Before Justinian Huang left Shanghai for some beach time in Malaysia last winter, he took his dog Swagger to stay with a friend.

"I dropped him off. I kissed him goodbye. I was like, 'I'm going to see you in six days,' " Huang recounts. "That was Jan. 23 of this year."

That week the coronavirus spread with alarming speed in China. So Huang decided to wait it out in Malaysia a few extra days. Then he flew to Taiwan, where he has family, and finally home to the United States.

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