China-India Dispute, Bolton Book, Premier League: Your Thursday Briefing

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Good morning.

We’re covering the failures of England’s contact tracing system, explosive allegations about President Trump in a new book by his former national security adviser and the return of the Premier League.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is betting he can safely reopen a country hit harder by the coronavirus pandemic than any other in Europe.

But he has fielded criticism over a botched school reopening plan, a controversial 14-day quarantine and an inconsistent contact-tracing operation that may risk a second wave of deaths.

The “world-beating” operation was supposed to trace people who had been exposed to the virus, bridging the time between lockdown and a vaccine. But more than a dozen public health officials, local government leaders and contact tracers told our reporters the system was begun on May 28 before it was ready.

Details: Since the operation began, some contact tracers have failed to reach a single person. Many, paid barely above minimum wage, began the work with little to no training. Call handlers have mistakenly tried to send patients in England to testing sites in Northern Ireland. And a government minister threatened to stop coordinating with local leaders if they publicly revealed the operation’s failings, three officials said.

Context: While the virus is cooling in London, infection rates remain high in parts of England, notably the northwest. Other European nations are building systems to pinpoint infection clusters for years to come. Germany, for instance, has hired contact tracers in 375 public health authorities, with doctors on hand to administer tests.

In other news:

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke his silence after 20 Indian soldiers died in a border clash with Chinese troops and issued a stern warning: “India wants peace, but if provoked India is capable of giving a befitting reply.”

China also pledged to avoid a broader conflict, but the foreign minister pointedly told his Indian counterpart that India “must not underestimate China’s firm will to safeguard territorial sovereignty.”

China’s leader, Xi Jinping, and Mr. Modi probably did not intend to ignite the clash on their border, high in the Himalayas, but they now confront a military crisis that could spin dangerously out of control, our correspondents write.

They are both ambitious, nationalist leaders, eager to assert greater roles for their countries. Neither wants to risk losing face.

Explainer: The violence has been decades in the making. Here’s a look at how both countries got to this juncture.

In “The Room Where It Happened,” John Bolton, the former U.S. national security adviser, claims the impeachment inquiry into President Trump should have investigated other troubling instances. (Our book critic called it “exceedingly tedious and slightly unhinged.”) The Justice Department has filed a lawsuit against Mr. Bolton to stop its publication.

Here are a few of the explosive allegations about Mr. Trump’s foreign policy in the book, which our reporters obtained an advance copy of:

  • Mr. Trump asked Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader, to buy a lot of American agricultural products to help him win farm states in this year’s election. Mr. Bolton writes that Mr. Trump was “pleading with Xi to ensure he’d win.”

  • Mr. Trump did not seem to know that Britain was a nuclear power and asked if Finland was a part of Russia. He never tired of assailing allied leaders and came closer to withdrawing the United States from NATO than previously known.

  • During Mr. Trump’s 2018 meeting with North Korea’s leader, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slipped Mr. Bolton a note disparaging the president with a vulgarity. A month later, Mr. Pompeo dismissed the president’s North Korea diplomacy as having “zero probability of success.”

  • According to an excerpt published by The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Trump said Mr. Xi should go ahead with building internment camps for Uighurs, a Muslim minority in China’s Xinjiang region. He said he thought it was “the right thing to do,” according to Mr. Bolton.

Restaurants are about much more than food, as people learned when we lost them during the pandemic. We lost a theater of experience. The Times asked several renowned writers to recount their most memorable meals out. The results are hilarious, sweet and, yes, hunger-inducing.

Alexander Chee dished on waiting tables for celebrities in ’90s New York. Adam Platt reminisced on Sunday family dinners at a Mongolian barbecue in Taiwan. And Bill Buford recalled the bouchons in Lyon, France — eateries that feel “like a vacation from yourself.”

North Korea: Kim Jong-un’s younger sister, Kim Yo-jong, has taken a leading role in speaking for the nation as tensions flare with South Korea. The 32-year-old is seen as a potential candidate to replace her brother in patriarchal North Korea.

China surveillance: The police in China are collecting blood samples from men and boys from across the country to build a genetic map of its roughly 700 million males, giving the authorities a powerful tool for their high-tech surveillance state.

U.S. protests: In an extraordinary session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on Wednesday, George Floyd’s brother Philonise implored the world body to investigate the killing of black people by the police in the United States. A former Atlanta police officer was charged on Wednesday with murder and aggravated assault in the fatal shooting of Rayshard Brooks, a black motorist outside a fast-food restaurant.

Snapshot: Above, Daunt Books in London. Bookstore owners in England are overjoyed to welcome customers back after they were allowed to reopen their businesses on Monday. “This has been fantastic,” one owner said after a sale. “The doom and gloom is going a little.”

Dark matter: A team of scientists has recorded suspicious pings from a vat of liquid xenon underneath an Italian mountain. Could they be tapping out a new view of the universe?

Premier League returns: The absence of the world’s most popular soccer league, which came back on Wednesday, has illustrated to what extent the sport has become England’s driving cultural force.

What we’re reading: This excerpt from Kevin Kwan’s new novel in Vanity Fair. In “Sex and Vanity,” the “Crazy Rich Asians” author revisits the nuances of Asian-American identity, this time in Capri and New York.

Cook: It’s time for French fries. This recipe involves soaking the potatoes to destarch them before blanching and frying, to achieve a heavenly crispness.

Listen: Lil Baby’s new song “The Bigger Picture” addresses police violence and racism. It’s part of this week’s playlist along with tracks by John Prine, Raphael Saadiq, Ambrose Akinmusire and others.

Do: Wearing a mask while exercising can affect your workout. Here are some tips on finding the right mask for exercising in crowded spaces.

At Home has our full collection of ideas on what to read, cook, watch, and do while staying safe at home.

Two days before George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis police custody, The Times’s Opinion section published an editorial by Brent Staples that now looks prophetic. It urged the U.S. military to rename 10 military bases in the South that are named for Confederate officers.

In the weeks since Floyd’s death, the issue of Confederate iconography has exploded. Protesters have toppled statues of Confederate leaders. NASCAR has banned the Confederate battle flag from its events. And a Senate committee, defying President Trump, voted to direct the Pentagon to begin the process of renaming the 10 bases.

“If you write about something long enough, the moment comes around when people can grasp it,” said Mr. Staples, whose coverage of race won a Pulitzer Prize last year. “It may be after Trump leaves, but I think this matter is rolling downhill with tremendous speed.”

The 10 bases are among the more than 1,700 Confederate monuments and other named tributes nationwide. The list includes an Alabama high school named for Jefferson Davis; Washington and Lee University in Virginia; and 11 statues in the U.S. Capitol.

That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.

— Isabella

Thank you
Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh wrote the rest of the break from the news. You can reach the team at

• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is about the killing of Rayshard Brooks.
• Here’s today’s Mini Crossword puzzle, and a clue: Kind of accent known as a brogue (five letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• Nikole Hannah-Jones, a reporter for The Times Magazine and creator of the 1619 Project, joined Oprah Winfrey to discuss the collective grief of black Americans.

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