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The Morning Dispatch: China Provokes Taiwan With Airspace Incursion
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The Morning Dispatch: China Provokes Taiwan With Airspace Incursion

Plus: Protests in the Twin Cities over the shooting death of Daunte Wright.

Happy Tuesday! Let’s dive right in.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon said Monday that the police officer who fatally shot Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old black man, meant to fire her taser, citing police camera footage and calling it “an accidental discharge that resulted in the tragic death of Mr. Wright.”

  • A police officer was injured at a high school shooting in Knoxville, Tennessee, on Monday. The high school student who shot the officer died at the scene.

  • President Joe Biden will nominate Christine Wormuth to be the secretary of the army and Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus to head U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

  • Senior national security officials from the U.S. and Israel will hold virtual strategic talks on Iran on Tuesday, Axios reported on Monday. The talks come one day before the U.S. will resume indirect negotiations with Iran on the 2015 nuclear deal and two days after an explosion at a top Iranian nuclear facility.

  • Following a series of explosions beginning on April 9, La Soufrière volcano on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent had its largest eruption this week on Monday, sending “deadly clouds of hot gas, ash and stones down the mountainsides.”

  • The United States confirmed 72,545 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, with 6.6 percent of the 1,101,031 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 472 deaths were attributed to the virus on Monday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 562,533. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 27,952 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. Meanwhile, 2,644,914 COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered yesterday, with 120,848,490 Americans having now received at least one dose.

China Provokes Taiwan in South China Sea

One day after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken took to Meet the Press to express concerns over Beijing’s recent “aggressive actions” in the South China Sea, the Chinese Air Force deployed 25 fighter jets and nuclear-capable bombers to Taiwanese airspace in its largest recorded incursion to date. Monday’s saber-rattling—combined with increasingly hostile rhetoric from Chinese officials—raises alarm bells of an impending invasion by Beijing to retake the island nation. 

Astute observers and regional experts attribute the military exercises, at least in part, to American movement toward China’s “insurmountable red line”: support for Taipei’s sovereignty. The State Department released new guidelines Friday to “encourage the U.S. government engagement with Taiwan that reflects our deepening unofficial relationship.” Symbolically, “the guidance underscores Taiwan is a vibrant democracy and an important security and economic partner that is also a force for good in the international community.” In practice, it permits U.S. officials greater access to their diplomatic counterparts. 

The shifting State Department protocol builds on that of its predecessor, which in its final days dismantled the “complex internal restrictions” inhibiting “our diplomats, servicemembers, and other officials’ interactions with their Taiwanese counterparts.” The Trump administration also authorized more than $15 billion in defense sales in a strategic effort to deter a Chinese invasion.

While it’s uncertain what support theAmerican military will provide in such an event, arming Taiwan has been a critical component of the U.S.’s Indo-Pacific policy since the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act. The legislation “doesn’t require us to defend Taiwan, but does mandate that we sell them equipment and make sure that they can defend themselves,” Gary Schmitt, a resident scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, told The Dispatch. “To the Trump team’s credit they made a very big effort to try to close that gap and the Taiwanese have been willing to buy a lot of equipment that they need.”

“We stand behind those commitments,” Blinken said of the legislation on Meet the Press. “And all I can tell you is it would be a serious mistake for anyone to try to change the existing status quo by force.”

Other incidents, like U.S. Ambassador John Hennessey-Niland’s visit to Taipei last month in a Palau-led delegation, signal to Beijing that the U.S. isn’t adhering to the “One-China Policy.” The ambiguously defined policy keeps the peace by denying Taiwanese sovereignty and suspending official diplomatic relations. 

“For decades, America played along with the ‘One China’ fiction to a considerable degree. Back in the mid 2000s, when I was a U.S. diplomat in China, it would have been unthinkable for a Cabinet-level visit to take place, or for the Marine presence in Taipei to be openly discussed,” Fred Rocafort, a legal expert on China and former diplomat, told The Dispatch. “Now we will have U.S. officials attending events at what is essentially the Taiwanese ambassador’s residence in Washington, while the secretary of state talks about ‘serious commitments’ to Taiwan. For China, any hopes that a Biden administration would bring a more conciliatory line on Taiwan have been dashed.”

U.S. lawmakers are also pursuing a closer partnership with the Taiwanese government. On Thursday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee introduced legislation—deemed the Strategic Competition Act of 2021—laying out initiatives to counter the human rights abuses, cyber threats, and economic challenges posed by Beijing. Support for Taipei was among the provisions outlined. China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, called on the U.S. to “stop pushing negative bills that interfere in China’s domestic affairs and harm Chinese interests” in response. 

It’s within this shifting context that the Chinese Communist Party seeks to test the boundaries of the new administration through its encroachment in the South China Sea. While yesterday marked the largest incursion yet, China undertook the second-largest—20 aircraft strong—in late March of this year. “For any new administration, you get these tests by your competitors,” Schmitt noted. “And certainly that’s what Russia’s doing in Ukraine, and that’s what China’s doing vis-à-vis Taiwan.”

The good news is that despite Beijing’s posturing, the costs of a military intervention—at least for the foreseeable future—very likely exceed any potential gains. When asked if the incursions will lead to active fighting, Yan Bennett of the Center on Contemporary China told The Dispatch that the likelihood is “zero to negative. I don’t think China is willing to risk its international reputation by losing a war against the United States and that’s essentially what it would be doing, is declaring war against the United States.”

Daunte Wright’s Death Sparks Protests in the Twin Cities

Last year, Minnesota’s Twin Cities were rocked by protests and riots following the killing of George Floyd, a black man who died face-down in the street with a police officer’s knee on his neck. This week, with that officer’s trial ongoing, another incident took place just miles away in Brooklyn Center, when another young black man, 20-year-old Daunte Wright, was shot and killed during a traffic stop.

According to police, the altercation began as a routine stop on Sunday afternoon: Officers pulled Wright over because his vehicle had expired tags. When they ran his name, however, they discovered he had an outstanding warrant—police said only that it was a gross misdemeanor—and moved to arrest him.

What happened next was caught on the body camera of the officer who fired the weapon, footage of which was released by the department on Monday. Wright exits the car without incident and turns to be cuffed by the officer at his window, a black man. Another white officer was standing at the passenger window; the third, a white woman—who was wearing the body camera—approached to assist with the restraining.

Then, in the footage, Wright suddenly protests the pat-down and bolts—spinning away from the officers and jumping back into the driver’s seat. After a few moments’ chaotic struggle, the woman aims her pistol at Wright; a moment later, she yells, “Taser, taser, taser!” and fires a single shot. She immediately cries out, drops the weapon, and stumbles back—Wright, fatally shot, drives off, crashing his car several blocks away. “Holy shit,” the officer gasps. “I just shot him.”

At a press conference Monday, Brooklyn Center Chief of Police Tim Gannon told reporters that the officer had been placed on administrative leave and that the incident was being investigated by Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. He also explained why he believed the shooting had been an “accidental discharge”:

As you can hear, the officer while struggling with Mr. Wright shouts ‘Taser, taser’ several times. That is part of the officer’s training prior to deploying a taser, which is a less lethal device. That is done to make her partners aware as well as the subject that a taser deployment will be imminent. During this encounter, however, the officer drew their handgun instead of their taser. For informational purposes, we train with our handguns on our dominant side, and our tasers on our weak side … This appears to me, from what I viewed and the officer’s reaction and distress immediately after, that this was an accidental discharge that resulted in the tragic death of Mr. Wright.

The officer was later identified as Kim Potter, a veteran officer with nearly 25 years experience on the force who serves as the head of the Brooklyn Center Police Association. Even with remarkably clear body-cam footage, it’s impossible to know what was going through the officer’s mind as she pulled the trigger. “The question is, was it an accident? Was it intentional?” President Biden told reporters Monday. “That remains to be determined by a full-blown investigation.”

Black Lives Matter activists have decried the killing as part of a pattern of racist police violence, while others argue that the act was likely the tragic outcome of a high-pressure mistake.

The killing prompted protests on Sunday evening, which—as with the George Floyd protests a year ago—devolved into riots as the night wore on. Police clashed with protesters outside the police station—bricks and rocks one way, tear gas and rubber bullets the other—and a number of local businesses were looted and vandalized. At least one, according to local news reports, had been hit by looters a year prior as well. The violence continued Monday evening, with more looting and clashes between rioters and the police.

On Monday, the civil unrest was brought up at the trial of Derek Chauvin, the primary officer involved in George Floyd’s death. Chauvin’s defense attorney once again asked the judge to sequester the jury, arguing that they feared more damage to their city and property in the event they returned an innocent verdict.

“This incident, while it is—I understand it is not this case, I understand it does not involve these same parties,” attorney Eric Nelson said. “But the problem is that the emotional response that that case creates sets the stage for a jury to say, ‘I’m not going to vote not guilty because I’m concerned about the outcome.’”

The judge ultimately denied Nelson’s request.

Worth Your Time

  • After years spent bullying his political adversaries and publicly displaying his ego,, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is one of the most unpopular Democratic lawmakers of the 21st century. He faces ongoing investigations into his nursing home death cover-up, as well as multiple, detailed allegations of sexual harassment levied against him. “At the same time,” writes National Review’s Michael Brendan Dougherty, “this absolutely power-mad, arrogant, sleaze bucket of a governor is the only thing preventing New York from becoming the next California.” Per Dougherty: “Cuomo began his reign in New York by immediately closing the state’s massive budget deficit, taming an unruly legislature, and then going on the offensive against big public-sector unions,” and later took under his wing a group of Democrats in the state legislature who split from the more progressive flanks of his party. “I guess it’s a tribute to this bizarre state to think, That son of a bitch was intolerable and deserved to be at Rikers; I’ll miss him when he’s gone.”

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • Is Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer likely to retire anytime soon? David Lat joined Monday’s episode of Advisory Opinions to give us his thoughts. Stick around to hear Lat and our hosts chat about Biden’s 36-person Supreme Court commission, a new opinion involving California pandemic law, Google v. Oracle, and lawful orders from police officers.

  • President Biden unveiled his commission to look into possible reforms to the Supreme Court. Ilya Shapiro warns that there are no quick fixes.

  • Thomas Koenig reviews Fears of a Setting Sun: The Disillusionment of America’s Founders, a book that details how the Founding Fathers lost faith in the American experiment. 

  • Peter Hedger compares recent comments by J.D. Vance about reining in Big Tech companies who benefit from infrastructure and government privileges to Barack Obama’s infamous “You didn’t build that” comment. 

Let Us Know

What are your expectations for President Biden’s Supreme Court commission? Real, bipartisan reforms? A way to put off progressives who want to pack the court? Both?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Haley Byrd Wilt (@byrdinator), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), Ryan Brown (@RyanP_Brown), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).