Your Wednesday Briefing: Asia Buys Up Russia’s Oil

We’re covering surging demand for Russian oil in Asia and China’s collapsing property market.

A surge in demand from Asia for discounted Russian oil is making up for the significantly lower number of barrels being sold to Europe, dulling the effects of the West’s sanctions.

Most of the additional oil has gone to two countries: China and India. China’s imports of Russian oil rose 28 percent in May from the previous month, while India has gone from taking in almost no Russian oil to buying more than 760,000 barrels a day.

The oil is being sold at a steep discount because of the risks associated with sanctions imposed to punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. Still, soaring energy prices have led to an uptick in oil revenue for Russia, which took in $1.7 billion more last month than it did in April.

More news from the war in Ukraine:

Phone-tracking devices are now everywhere in China — as are more than half of the world’s nearly one billion surveillance cameras, analysts estimate. The police there are creating some of the largest DNA databases in the world. And the authorities are building upon facial recognition technology to collect voice prints from the general public.

Times reporters spent over a year analyzing more than a hundred thousand government bidding documents, revealing that China’s ambition to collect a staggering amount of personal data from everyday citizens is more expansive than previously known.

The analysis found that the police chose locations to maximize the data their facial recognition cameras could collect, such as places where people eat, shop and travel. In one bidding document from Fujian Province, the police estimated that there were 2.5 billion facial images stored at any given time.

The authorities are using phone trackers to link people’s digital lives to their physical movements. In one case, documents revealed that the police bought phone trackers with the hope of detecting a Uyghur-to-Chinese dictionary app, which would identify phones likely belonging to members of the oppressed Uyghur ethnic minority.

For more: Here are the four biggest takeaways from the Times investigation.

A property debt crisis and a sluggish economy in China have touched off a plunge in new home sales and depressed real estate prices for the first time in years — jeopardizing an important investment for millions of Chinese families.

The situation grew worse when a new variant of the coronavirus triggered widespread lockdowns and brought the economy to a standstill. Prices have dropped across the country, but demand has not returned, a frightening sign for an economy that had come to depend on housing for job growth and business spending.

But so far, China’s efforts to revive the housing market with lower mortgage rates, easier credit, subsidies and relaxed regulations have not worked. In April and May, new home prices fell in more than half of China’s 70 biggest cities for the first time since 2016, and sales of such properties tumbled nearly 60 percent.

Macro: Since the country started to roll out reforms in 1988 for commercial housing, property has become a pillar of an ascendant economy. By some estimates, it accounts for about 30 percent of China’s gross domestic product.

Micro: For young people who want to marry, owning a home is considered a must before starting a family. Instead of investing in stocks and bonds, Chinese households allocate most of their savings to real estate — at more than twice the rate of Americans.

Over nine months, three African wild dogs traveled some 1,300 miles, more than twice the previous record for the species, according to scientists. The sisters braved lions, crocodiles, poachers and raging rivers on their journey to find a new home.

It’s been almost 28 months since offices shut down at the beginning of the pandemic. More than enough time to buy a ring light, hang some art on the walls and figure out the mute button. But as Emma Goldberg, a Times business reporter found, many people have still not adapted.

Plenty of people have kept working from home with a certain level of flippancy, as though any day might herald a sweeping return back to cubicles and commutes.

At the end of 2021, three million professional roles in the U.S. went permanently remote. Many other workers have been in limbo, going back to the office either part time or waiting for a return-to-office plan that won’t be postponed. The confusion and ambivalence people feel can make it hard to invest in making a remote work setup feel permanent.

Last week Sujay Jaswa, a former Dropbox executive, did a video shoot with the camera aimed toward the ceiling. “His business philosophy does not include pulling off a decent zoom,” Room Rater, a Twitter account that scores video call backgrounds, wrote.

That’s it for today’s briefing. See you next time. — Matthew

P.S. This week 50 years ago, Irish Republican Army men in Belfast’s Crumlin Road jail ended a 36-day hunger strike.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about the red-hot American property market.

You can reach Matthew and the team at

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