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Morning Brief

Taiwan Set for Critical Vote

Taiwanese voters go to the polls in an election that politicians say is all about China.

Supporters wave Taiwanese flags during a campaign rally ahead of Saturday's election, on Jan. 9 in Taipei.
Supporters wave Taiwanese flags during a campaign rally ahead of Saturday's election, on Jan. 9 in Taipei. Carl Court/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Taiwan prepares for weekend elections, U.S. and Canadian officials say Iran shot down the Ukrainian passenger plane above Tehran, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal passes the House of Commons.

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Taiwan Set for General Elections

Taiwan’s voters go to the polls in parliamentary and presidential elections on Saturday, with incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen expected to win. Despite his quick rise, the main challenger Han Kuo-yu is polling far behind. Still, Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) could struggle to keep its majority in parliament. It currently has 68 of 113 seats, while Han’s Kuomintang (KMT) holds 35 seats.

Tsai has framed the elections as a referendum on self-ruled Taiwan’s relationship with mainland China, running on the slogan “Resist China, Defend Taiwan.” Beijing’s reaction to the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong has likely shaped voters’ opinions in Taiwan, where the “one country, two systems” model has been pushed by China.

Disinformation. Tsai has also cautioned against disinformation, allegedly spread by Chinese cyber operatives. Han, seen as the pro-Beijing candidate, received a boost from some of these social media manipulation campaigns, as Paul Huang reported for FP last June. Still, analysts say the disinformation campaigns aren’t likely to have a significant effect on the elections.

‘Don’t read into it.’ Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said on Thursday that China shouldn’t see the election results as a win or loss for Beijing. “If China reads too much into our election … there might be a likely scenario that China will engage in military intimidation or diplomatic isolation or using economic measures as punishment against Taiwan,” he said.

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What We’re Following Today

Western officials say Iran shot down plane. U.S. and Canadian officials believe that Iran shot down the Ukrainian airliner that crashed after taking off in Tehran on Wednesday. The disaster may have been a mistake, as Iranian air defenses were on high alert after launching an attack on U.S. military installations in Iraq, FP reports. (Iran denies that the plane was hit by a missile.) The crash killed all 176 people on board the flight from Tehran to Kyiv, including at least 63 Canadian citizens. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has vowed to seek answers and justice, though Canada has not had diplomatic relations with Iran since 2012.

Johnson’s Brexit bill is nearly official. On Thursday, British lawmakers in the House of Commons voted (330 to 231) to approve Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan to leave the European Union on Jan. 31 with a deal, after months of political deadlock over the legislation. The bill now heads to the House of Lords, where it is expected to become law within weeks. Then, the focus will turn to Britain’s negotiations with the EU over future trade arrangements, which must be settled by Dec. 31.

With the Brexit withdrawal bill passing the House of Commons, the argument for Irish unification is gaining ground. But Northern Ireland’s unionists won’t go quietly, FP’s Dan Haverty reports.

Syrian cross-border aid could end today. A United Nations operation that delivers aid across the Syrian border from Turkey, Iraq, and Jordan will expire at midnight if the U.N. Security Council doesn’t reach a last minute deal to extend it. For six years, the U.N. has provided 3 million Syrian citizens with vital aid, but last month Russia vetoed a draft resolution to renew its authorization. Western powers have proposed a compromise, with the council due to vote today.

Keep an Eye On

Bushfire backlash in Australia. Today thousands are expected to protest in nine cities against Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s response to the devastating bushfires in Australia. Morrison, who has downplayed the fires’ links to climate change, has long advocated for Australia’s coal industry. Still the fires could hamper some protesters’ plans: Officials in Victoria have called on protesters to cancel their march due to dangerous conditions.

Mexico’s asylum seekers. Mexico’s interior minister said Thursday that the country was considering a plan to repatriate Mexican asylum seekers sent from the United States to Guatemala under a deal signed between the United States and Guatemala in July. Outgoing Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales has said Mexican asylum seekers weren’t part of the deal but U.S. officials said this week that Mexican migrants would be included in the deportations.

Puerto Rico’s biggest power plant. Though Puerto Rico’s electricity is expected to be restored by Monday, its largest power plant could be down for at least a year after a major earthquake hit the island this week. The earthquake has compounded Puerto Rico’s recovery from hurricanes in 2017, for which it is still awaiting U.S. federal funding. 

FP Conference Call—On Monday, Jan. 13, at 10 a.m. ET, join us for an early look at the cover story from the upcoming Winter 2020 print issue of Foreign Policy magazine with a special conference call on the revival of socialism: why it’s back and what it means. Featuring FP editor in chief Jonathan Tepperman and Barnard College professor Sheri Berman. Secure your spot today.

Odds and Ends

Brazil’s Education Minister Abraham Weintraub is being criticized for a series of spelling mistakes he has made in tweets and official documents. Academics are calling for Weintraub—one of President Jair Bolsonaro’s most loyal ministers—to be removed from office. Speaking in a classroom last year, he also appeared to mix up the author Franz Kafka with kofta, the meatball dish. “The spelling mistakes are the least of his problems,” one professor told the Guardian.

That’s it for today.

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Audrey Wilson is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @audreybwilson

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