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The Morning Dispatch: China Deploys Aircraft Near Taiwan
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The Morning Dispatch: China Deploys Aircraft Near Taiwan

Plus: North and South Korea ease tensions after a month of hostility.

Happy Tuesday! If, yesterday afternoon, you briefly felt like the world was a happier, healthier, more empathetic place—it wasn’t just you. Facebook and Instagram were down for several hours.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai delivered a speech on Monday outlining a Biden administration approach to U.S.-China trade that is more a continuation of Trump-era policies than a departure. The United States, she said, will maintain existing tariffs on Chinese exports while pressing China to live up to the terms of the Trump administration’s January 2020 Phase One deal, which it has mostly thus far failed to do. The United States also plans to reopen the process through which American companies can apply for tariff exclusions, the White House said.

  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell sent President Joe Biden a letter on Monday reiterating Republicans’ position that Democrats will have to raise the debt limit on their own before the mid-October deadline. “In 2003, 2004, and 2006, Mr. President, you joined Senate Democrats in opposing debt limit increases and made Republicans do it ourselves,” McConnell wrote. “Your view then is our view now.” Biden shot back on Monday, calling Republicans’ position “hypocritical, dangerous, and disgraceful” in remarks from the White House. “If you don’t want to help save the country, get out of the way so you don’t destroy it,” Biden said, calling on Republicans not to filibuster legislation already passed by the House that would raise the debt ceiling.

  • Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s prime minister since 2018, was sworn in for a second term on Monday after his Prosperity Party secured a landslide victory in parliamentary elections over the summer. Abiy remained defiant yesterday in the face of international pressure to tamp down the ethnic violence that has ravaged Ethiopia’s Tigray region, saying the past year has revealed who Ethiopia’s true friends are.

  • Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said a record 56 Chinese military jets flew into its air defense identification zone on Monday, just two days after 39 planes did the same. A State Department spokesman expressed concern over the Chinese military exercise, saying it “is destabilizing, risks miscalculations, and undermines regional peace and stability.” 

  • The Biden administration on Monday reversed a Trump-era rule that prevented organizations that make abortion referrals from receiving federal Title X funding. “Our nation’s family planning clinics play a critical role in delivering health care,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said yesterday, “and today more than ever, we are making clear that access to quality family planning care includes accurate information and referrals—based on a patient’s needs and direction.”

Trouble Brewing in the Indo-Pacific

(Photograph by Xinhua/Li Shaopeng/Getty Images.)

When the United States wiped its hands of military commitments in Afghanistan in August, it did so with an eye on East Asia. “Here’s a critical thing to understand: The world is changing.  We’re engaged in a serious competition with China,” President Biden said in his speech to close the chapter. “And there’s nothing China or Russia would rather have, would want more in this competition than the United States to be bogged down another decade in Afghanistan.”

A month later, Biden’s mettle in the region is already being tested, with the Chinese Communist Party conducting unprecedented military exercises near Taiwan’s airspace and North Korea resuming ballistic missile tests.

China’s warplanes approach Taiwan.

Beijing set three consecutive records over the past few days—deploying 38 military aircraft near Taiwan’s airspace on Friday, 39 on Saturday, and a total of 56 on Monday. The incursions follow a year of Chinese military posturing in the South China Sea, where China has increased its hostile gestures toward Taiwanese sovereignty amid Taipei’s strengthening ties with the United States.

In April, the State Department published a new set of guidelines designed to “encourage the U.S. government engagement with Taiwan that reflects our deepening unofficial relationship.” Building on steps taken under the Trump administration, the revised rules encouraged American officials to engage more actively with their diplomatic counterparts in Taiwan. 

Shortly thereafter, Beijing dispatched 25 fighter jets and nuclear-capable bombers to Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ)—a buffer area between the two countries—in the People’s Liberation Army Air Force’s (PLAAF) largest recorded show of force. 

At the time, the Biden administration attempted to discourage further incursions with stern rhetoric. “We have a serious commitment to Taiwan being able to defend itself,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Chuck Todd on NBC’s Meet the Press. “We have a serious commitment to peace and security in the Western Pacific. And in that context, it would be a serious mistake for anyone to try to change that status quo by force.”

But in June, the PLAAF once again shattered its previous single-day record, with 28 military aircrafts entering the ADIZ.

Beijing has now deployed a combined 149 military aircraft—including J-16 fighter jets, H-6 bombers, SU-30 fighters, and more—in the first few days of October alone. “The United States is very concerned by the People’s Republic of China’s provocative military activity near Taiwan, which is destabilizing, risks miscalculations, and undermines regional peace and stability,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement Sunday. “We urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure and coercion against Taiwan.” Chinese President Xi Jinping didn’t heed the warning, dispatching additional warplanes the following day. 

Price declined to opine on Beijing’s motives on a call with reporters Monday, but he doubled down on the United States’ commitment to Taiwan, twice describing it as “rock solid.” The U.S.’s support for Taipei has historically consisted of weapons sales to up the strategic cost of a Chinese invasion—a spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry on Monday decried these weapons sales as “provocative” and “damag[ing] to regional peace and stability”—but American military intervention in such an event remains unlikely. Asked directly if the United States would respond to Chinese military action back in April, Blinken simply said he didn’t want “to get into hypotheticals.”

The CCP has a long, fraught history with Taiwan. From CNN:

Taiwan and mainland China have been governed separately since the end of a civil war more than seven decades ago, in which the defeated Nationalists fled to Taipei. However, Beijing views Taiwan as an inseparable part of its territory—even though the Chinese Communist Party has never governed the democratic island of about 24 million people.

So why is Beijing doing this? And why now? One possibility: The USS Ronald Reagan and USS Carl Vinson trained in the Philippine Sea over the weekend with vessels from six different countries. It was also China’s National Day on Friday—with the country celebrating the 72nd anniversary of its founding—and the CCP may have hoped a show of military might would gin up patriotism and distract from the nation’s recent economic and financial woes . A Monday story about the exercises was positioned prominently on the home page of the CCP-backed Global Times.

“The secessionist forces on the island will never be allowed to secede Taiwan from China under whatever names or by whatever means, and, the island will not be allowed to act as an outpost of the US’ strategic containment against China,” a recent Global Times editorial reads. “The Chinese mainland’s preparation to use force against Taiwan secessionist forces is much stronger than ever before.”

“Resolving the Taiwan question and realizing national reunification has never become so weightier on the shoulders of all Chinese people,” the piece continues. “Not only the US, but also some other countries are trying to use the Taiwan question as a card to play against Beijing. A fundamental solution to the Taiwan question is becoming all the more reasonable day by day. … Time will prove that this warning is not just a verbal threat.”

Whatever the motive, these military exercises run the risk of rapid escalation—intentional or otherwise. “One of China’s objectives is to wear down and force errors by Taiwan’s armed forces as they respond,” Fred Rocafort, a legal expert on China and former diplomat, told The Dispatch. “These exercises also promote readiness within the Chinese military. In that context, sending increasing numbers of planes makes sense. At the same time, the more planes that are involved, the higher the chances that something could go wrong.”

The Koreas reestablish communication after tensions flare.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Indo-Pacific, North and South Korea have taken military de-escalation into their own hands after a month of renewed hostilities. On Monday, the two countries reactivated their hotline after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un broke it last month to push back on South Korean military development and joint exercises with the United States.

In the interim, the North conducted at least four test launches, probing the limits of the South by firing off ballistic and anti-aircraft missiles as recently as Saturday.  

But last week, Kim delivered a speech claiming that Pyongyang harbored “neither aim nor reason to provoke South Korea and no intention to harm it,” and merely sought to push back on the “delusion” and “double standards” with which the U.S. and international community treated arms buildups on the Korean peninsula. Kim went on to criticize the U.S. for reducing the region to a “neo-Cold War” grounded in “unilateral and unfair bloc-forming” that favored some and condemned others, but indicated a willingness to restore communication with the South in the interest of peace. 

Asked about the hotline Monday, Price emphasized the U.S.’s goal to ensure the “complete denuclearization” of the peninsula through negotiations “without preconditions”—an oft-repeated line that Kim denounced last week as “no more than a petty trick for deceiving the international community and hiding its hostile acts.” 

Worth Your Time

  • Facebook’s been in the news a lot lately—the whistleblower, the leaked Instagram studies, the outage—and Kevin Roose of the New York Times thinks all these stories point in one direction: The company is in trouble. “Not financial trouble, or legal trouble, or even senators-yelling-at-Mark-Zuckerberg trouble,” he writes. “What I’m talking about is a kind of slow, steady decline that anyone who has ever seen a dying company up close can recognize. It’s a cloud of existential dread that hangs over an organization whose best days are behind it, influencing every managerial priority and product decision and leading to increasingly desperate attempts to find a way out. This kind of decline is not necessarily visible from the outside, but insiders see a hundred small, disquieting signs of it every day — user-hostile growth hacks, frenetic pivots, executive paranoia, the gradual attrition of talented colleagues.”

  • Over a six-day period, Katherine Miller read four recently published political books in an effort to “make further sense of the surreal period between when Donald Trump lost the election and when a mob tried to ransack the Capitol.” But what she found was a stark reminder that we’ll likely never truly know exactly what happened. “For the rest of our lives probably, we’ll periodically learn new facts or hear new accounts of the period between Trump contracting COVID and Joe Biden’s inauguration in January,” she writes in an essay for BuzzFeed News. “First, there will be books like these. Then, revelations from the ongoing civil litigation against some of the key players if they survive efforts by Trump and others to get them tossed out of court. Then, the testimony during hearings and the documents, text messages, and emails likely to be released by the congressional select committee investigating Jan. 6. Then we’ll get items in periodic waves, brought about by expired executive privilege, or posthumous releases of interviews, memoirs, and documents, or a new posture on security footage from inside the Capitol, which largely remains unreleased. And learning details about one thing can make you wonder about the things you can’t see.”

  • In a piece for Reason, Christian Britschgi details how the Centers for Disease Control essentially “became America’s landlord” over the past 18 months. “When eviction moratoriums popped up all over the country at the beginning of the pandemic, they were billed as a temporary emergency measure intended to help stop the spread of COVID-19,” he writes. “But over the last year and a half, the rationales have multiplied—from arresting a public health threat to preventing a wave of evictions to buying time for billions in rental assistance (itself an unprecedented crisis-response policy) to reach beneficiaries.” This likely isn’t the last time. “Politicians have discovered a cheap, easy, court-supported way of providing economic relief. It’s unlikely that they’ll be less willing to use that power in the future,” Britschgi argues. “The CDC has claimed the authority to do anything ‘reasonably necessary’ to stop the spread of a communicable disease. If that reasoning could justify an eviction moratorium to stop COVID-19, it could plausibly be stretched to justify any intervention in response to any transmissible disease, regardless of how severe it might be.”

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Also Presented Without Comment

Also Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • Speaking of China, Danielle Pletka has a piece on the site today looking at the rise of “hostage diplomacy” in the wake of the return to China of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, which triggered the reciprocal release of two Canadian hostages. “In short, kidnapping and hostage-taking is a thing,” she writes. “But it is more recently that it has risen from being a tool of terrorists in the modern era to a regularly used tool of governments.”

Let Us Know

The Dispatch was featured in a New York Times story yesterday about the rise of various digital media companies, and Steve told the Times reporter, Marc Tracy, that we have officially exited our “start-up phase.” Believe it or not, our first-ever Morning Dispatch was published two years ago this week.

Two-parter today: How did you find out about The Dispatch originally, and what are your hopes for this little pirate skiff now that we have “exited our start-up phase?”

P.S. It’s News Engagement Day, so we expect you to really give it your all in the comments.

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Charlotte Lawson (@lawsonreports), Audrey Fahlberg (@AudreyFahlberg), Ryan Brown (@RyanP_Brown), Harvest Prude (@HarvestPrude), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).