Taiwan Votes. China is Watching.

Happy Friday! Another one bites the dust: Longtime New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick announced on Thursday that he will part ways with the football team he led to nine Super Bowl appearances and six victories. Some will say he created the greatest, winningest dynasty in NFL history. New Yorkers, however, know better.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The U.S. and U.K. conducted airstrikes against Houthi targets in Yemen on Thursday night in response to the Iranian-backed group’s ongoing attacks against international shipping in the Red Sea. “These targeted strikes are a clear message that the United States and our partners will not tolerate attacks on our personnel or allow hostile actors to imperil freedom of navigation in one of the world’s most critical commercial routes,” President Joe Biden said in a statement released last night. “I will not hesitate to direct further measures to protect our people and the free flow of international commerce as necessary.” The airstrikes hit more than a dozen targets, including radar, launch sites, and weapons storage facilities, and followed increasingly strong warnings of “consequences” from Western nations should the Houthis not cease their aggression in the region. Also on Thursday, Iran’s navy boarded and seized a Greek oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman, escalating the maritime violence in the region against international vessels. The tanker was in the Strait of Hormuz—the world’s most important oil transit chokepoint—when it was taken, and could represent Iran’s own escalation in response to Western efforts to stop attacks on international trade ships led by the Yemeni Houthis.
  • South Africa formally accused Israel of genocide before the U.N.’s International Court of Justice on Thursday, claiming the current war in Gaza is the latest in a long history of Israeli oppression against Palestinians and calling for the court to enforce an immediate ceasefire. “The violence and the destruction in Palestine and Israel did not begin on the 7th of October 2023,” said South African Minister of Justice Ronald Lamola. “The Palestinians have experienced systematic oppression and violence for the last 76 years.” Israel is delivering its response before the court today, where it will deny the accusations while alleging the terrorist group Hamas has exacerbated casualty numbers by embedding itself among civilian populations. Israel complies with rules of war, “but it does so in the face of Hamas’ utter contempt for the law,” Tal Becker, legal adviser for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, argued in his opening remarks. U.S. officials have rejected international accusations that Israel is perpetrating genocide.
  • The Consumer Price Index rose 0.3 percent month-over-month and 3.4 percent annually in December, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Thursday, up slightly from 0.1 and 3.1 percent in November, respectively. December’s inflation figures came in above economists’ expectations, driven by an increase in shelter prices, though core inflation—a metric that strips out volatile food and energy prices—held steady at 0.3 percent month-over-month and decreased slightly to 3.9 percent annually.
  • Hunter Biden pleaded not guilty to nine tax charges in a federal court in California on Thursday, in a case that alleges the president’s son failed to pay at least $1.4 million in federal taxes between 2016 through 2019. The younger Biden faces a separate federal indictment on gun charges in Delaware, and his legal troubles and business conduct have increasingly become a focus of congressional Republicans in recent months.

Taiwan Heads to the Polls

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen joins hands with the presidential candidate of ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Lai Ching-te during a campaign rally on January 11, 2024 in Taipei, Taiwan. (Photo by Sawayasu Tsuji/Getty Images)
Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen joins hands with the presidential candidate of ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Lai Ching-te during a campaign rally on January 11, 2024 in Taipei, Taiwan. (Photo by Sawayasu Tsuji/Getty Images)

Taiwan will hold the world’s first major election of 2024 tomorrow, as citizens select the next president and legislature of the island democracy. China’s influence has loomed large over the contest—literally. During a media briefing on Tuesday, in which Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu detailed the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) efforts to interfere in the election, an emergency alert went out warning that China had launched a rocket into space over the south of Taiwan. The Chinese-language alert made clear the rocket was a satellite launch, but much to the alarm of the foreign journalists in the room, the English translation read: “[Air-Raid Alert] Missile flyover Taiwan airspace, be aware.”  

The incident highlighted the real-world consequences of heightened tensions across the Taiwan Strait—something that will be top of mind as voters head to the polls tomorrow. The presidential election has featured tough rhetoric among the leading candidates, including claims that the fate of the island could hinge on the outcome. Such characterizations likely overstate the stakes of the race—the differences among the candidates are a matter of degree, not kind—but what may matter most for stability in the region is how the People’s Republic of China (PRC) reacts to the results.

The presidential race has featured three top contenders: Taiwanese Vice President Lai Ching-te, of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP); New Taipei City Mayor Hou Yu-ih, of the leading opposition party Kuomintang (KMT); and former Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je, founder of the upstart Taiwan People’s Party (TPP). Securing between 32 and 40 percent in three recent polls, Lai is the slight favorite to win, but KMT’s Hou is not far behind. Ko is currently polling in third, but still registers double-digit support. The contest is notably closer than the 2020 election, when the current president and DPP leader, Tsai Ing-wen, secured her second term by a nearly 20-point margin.  

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