China Continues to Test U.S.-Philippine Relations

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  • The son of Gadi Eisenkot—a minister in Israel’s emergency war cabinet and the former Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) chief of staff—was among the five Israeli soldiers killed in the last several days of fighting in Gaza, the IDF said on Thursday, bringing the number of IDF deaths in the offensive to 89. Separately, the U.S. began imposing visa restrictions earlier this week on anyone—Israeli settlers or Palestinians—who has engaged in violence in the West Bank after several reported instances of violence against Palestinians by Israeli settlers. “The United States has consistently opposed actions that undermine stability in the West Bank, including attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinians, and Palestinian attacks against Israelis,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday. “We have underscored to the Israeli government the need to do more to hold accountable extremist settlers who have committed violent attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank.”
  • The Justice Department unsealed an indictment on Thursday against two Russian hackers who prosecutors allege were acting on behalf of the Russian government to breach the emails of individuals working for U.S., British, and other allied government agencies. “The conspirators used ‘spoofed’ email accounts designed to look like personal and work-related email accounts of the group’s targets,” prosecutors alleged, in order to gain access to their targets’ email accounts. The hackers reportedly intended to release sensitive information regarding high-profile British political figures to disrupt U.K. politics. 
  • The Biden administration on Thursday unveiled a framework for circumstances under which federal agencies could seize the patents of certain drugs developed with taxpayer-funded research under the auspices of the Bayh-Dole Act’s “march-in” authority, which could allow the federal government to license the patents to other companies in order to sell the drug for less under generic labels. For the first time, the price of prescription medicine is one of the factors that agencies may consider. The Biden administration will “make it clear that when drug companies won’t sell taxpayer-funded drugs at reasonable prices, we will be prepared to allow other companies to provide those drugs for less,” said Lael Brainard, White House national economic advisor. No federal agency has ever used the march-in authority, and the framework will now be open for public consideration for 60 days. “Let’s be clear, seizing patents is a confiscation of property,” said U.S. Chamber of Commerce executive vice president Neil Bradley. “If patents for medicine are seized today, what property will the government seize tomorrow? The Chamber will use every tool at our disposal to stop the administration from destroying America’s ability to discover the next breakthrough treatment or cure.”
  • The U.S. military announced on Thursday it would conduct joint military exercises in Guyana amid increased speculation that Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro might try to forcibly annex part of the neighboring nation’s territory. “In collaboration with the Guyana Defence Force, the U.S. Southern Command will conduct flight operations within Guyana on December 7,” the U.S. Embassy in Guyana reported in a statement yesterday. “The U.S. will continue its commitment as Guyana’s trusted security partner and promoting regional cooperation and interoperability.” Earlier this week, Maduro ordered state-owned companies to “immediately” begin exploiting oil and other natural resources in Guyana’s Esequiba region after a weekend referendum passed in Venezuela claiming sovereignty over the enclave. The U.N. Security Council will meet later today to discuss the territorial dispute between Guyana and Venezuela. 
  • Hunter Biden was indicted on nine tax charges on Thursday, including three felony counts and six misdemeanor charges alleging President Joe Biden’s son understated his income, overstated expenses, and ultimately failed to pay at least $1.4 million in owed taxes between 2016 and 2019. The new charges—from a federal grand jury in California—carry a maximum prison sentence of up to 17 years, and come as House Republicans consider impeachment charges against the senior Biden for his potential involvement in his son’s business dealings. Special counsel David Weiss—long tasked with overseeing the federal investigation into the president’s son—has also brought gun-related charges against Hunter in Delaware.
  • A Texas judge ruled Thursday that a woman who is 20 weeks pregnant may obtain an emergency abortion despite a law banning most abortions in the state. Travis County District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble, an elected Democrat, granted a temporary restraining order to Katie Cox, who is pregnant with a child diagnosed with Trisomy 18, allowing her to seek an abortion under the state’s limited exceptions. “After multiple screenings, ultrasounds, and diagnostic testing, Ms. Cox’s physicians have confirmed that her baby may not survive to birth and, if so, will only live for minutes, hours, or days,” Gamble wrote in her ruling. “The longer Ms. Cox stays pregnant, the greater the risks to her life.” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, sent a letter to three Houston-area hospitals saying, despite the ruling, they could be held civilly or criminally liable for violating abortion laws.
  • CNN announced Thursday it will host two Republican primary debates next month, in Iowa and New Hampshire. Each debate will take place just days before the first two primary contests—on January 10 at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, and on January 21 at St. Anselm College in Goffstown, New Hampshire. To qualify for the Iowa debate, candidates must register at least 10 percent in three national or Iowa-specific polls that meet CNN’s standards. To qualify for the New Hampshire debate, candidates must meet the 10 percent polling requirement in three national or New Hampshire-specific polls, or place in the top three in the Iowa caucuses. The CNN debates are not yet officially approved by the Republican National Committee, but Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has already signaled he will participate. ABC News also announced on Thursday it would also host a GOP primary debate in New Hampshire, just days before the CNN event.

More Maritime Troubles

An aerial view of Whitsun Reef, Spratly Islands, South China Sea. Imaged 9 March 2021. (Photo by Gallo Images/Orbital Horizon/Copernicus Sentinel Data 2021)
An aerial view of Whitsun Reef, Spratly Islands, South China Sea. Imaged 9 March 2021. (Photo by Gallo Images/Orbital Horizon/Copernicus Sentinel Data 2021)

In any relationship, it’s important to take things at the right pace, making sure both parties are on the same page and share the same priorities. But sometimes you just go head over heels. Something like that has happened between the U.S. and the Philippines over the last 18 months: With last summer’s election of a new president much more favorable to America than his predecessor, the Philippines has drawn closer to the U.S., and the Biden administration has tried to take advantage of the renewed attraction—much to the chagrin of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

China has grown increasingly bold in the South China Sea, and its incursion into disputed Philippine maritime territory earlier this week is just the latest in a string of aggressive incidents. On Sunday, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) accused China of swarming the Whitsun Reef, which is part of the Spratly Islands—disputed territory claimed by the Philippines, China, Vietnam, and Malaysia, and partially occupied by each country. (Brunei maintains a partial claim but does not occupy any territory.) The Whitsun Reef lies 175 nautical miles off the coast of Palawan, a large island in the Western Philippines, and within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). 

A PCG spokesperson shared footage of Chinese maritime militia vessels in the region earlier this week, saying 111 ships initially swarmed the area on November 13—and that that number has since grown. Dozens of the vessels appeared to be secured together, forming a long raft of ships. “It is reasonable and lawful for Chinese fishing boats to operate and take shelter in the waters,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin. China’s maritime militia is purportedly a fishing force, but often acts in concert with the Chinese military and law enforcement to exploit the gray area between outright conflict and peace in the South China Sea. China conducted a similar swarm of the reef in March 2021.

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