Morning Brief

U.S. Plans to Send New Weapons to Taiwan

As relations with China continue to deteriorate, Washington prepares to deepen its security ties with Taiwan.

A U.S.-made helicopter files over a French-made vessel during a drill at sea near the naval port in Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan on Jan. 27.
A U.S.-made helicopter files over a French-made vessel during a drill at sea near the naval port in Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan on Jan. 27. Sam Yeh/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Washington to send advanced weapons systems to Taiwan, the head of Libya’s U.N.-backed government is set to resign, and a close ally of former Bolivian President Evo Morales leads presidential polls.

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U.S. Sending Weapons to Taiwan as Tensions With China Remain High

The United States is planning to sell a range of new weapons to Taiwan, deepening its commitment to the island nation amid deteriorating relations with Beijing. Sources told Reuters that the sales include seven major weapons systems, including mines, cruise missiles, and drones; a huge supply of weaponry that represents a major departure from the more conservative approach taken by past administrations.

Details obtained by the Wall Street Journal said that the deal was expected to total around $7 billion, and would include $400 million worth of sophisticated drones, complete with sensors, logistics, training, and other equipment.

Embracing Taiwan. The Trump administration has shown a greater willingness to engage with Taiwan in recent months. In May, the White House announced that it had approved another arms sale to Taiwan worth $180 million, and last month, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar visited Taiwan in the highest-level meeting between officials of the two countries since Washington severed diplomatic ties in 1979.

Chinese backlash. China has not yet responded to the reports, but the move is sure to provoke a strong reaction in Beijing. China has long considered Taiwan to be part of its national territory, and it strongly opposes any overtures by the United States to develop deeper ties with the Taiwanese country. It is unclear if China will take any retaliatory measures, but it has slapped sanctions on U.S. officials in the past over other instances of perceived U.S. overreach.

China may instead choose to simply flex its military muscle. Last week, Chinese forces conducted a series of military exercises off the coast of Taiwan, which Taiwanese officials called a serious provocation. “The relevant combat training activities by the People’s Liberation Army were a necessary action aimed at the current security situation in the Taiwan Strait and to safeguard national sovereignty,” a spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said in a statement.

What We’re Following Today

Russian weapons to Belarus? Embattled Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko said he asked Russian President Vladimir Putin for weapons in a meeting between the two leaders over the weekend. Russian officials denied the claim, however; Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin did not discuss weapons in his meeting with Lukashenko.

Russia’s involvement in the crisis unfolding in Belarus has deepened considerably in the previous few weeks. It is currently undertaking military drills in Belarus, and it recently announced that it would conduct joint military exercises with other members of the post-Soviet Collective Security Treaty Organization in the country. Last month, Putin said he had formed a reserve police force which could be used in Belarus if needed.

Washington backs Boris. After a meeting with U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that trade talks between the two countries were heading “for a successful conclusion,” despite recent backlash in Washington over the British government’s internal market bill. The bill, which was introduced in Parliament last week, would override key parts of last year’s Brexit withdrawal agreement, and many observers worry that this could undermine peace and stability in Northern Ireland.

U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi warned that if London pushed through legislation that threatened peace in Northern Ireland, it could expect no trade deal with the United States. Pompeo’s meeting with Raab seems to have been an attempt to assuage concerns around Pelosi’s remarks and give Prime Minister Boris Johnson a boost as he works to get the bill passed.

Israeli bombing in Gaza. The Israeli Defense Forces launched a series of air raids on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday after 15 rockets were fired from the area into Israel. Hamas warned Israel that it “will pay the price for any aggression against our people or resistance sites and the response will be direct.”

The attacks on Israel coincided with the ceremony being held in Washington for the signing of the historic normalization deals between Israel, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates. Palestinians from across the political spectrum have been united in their opposition to the moves. The Palestinian Authority has called efforts to normalize ties with Israel a betrayal of the cause of Palestinian statehood, and protesters have taken to the streets in recent weeks to rally against the deals.

Libya PM to step down. Fayez al-Sarraj, the head of Libya’s U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), announced that he will resign his post in the near-future, though he will stay on in a caretaker capacity during negotiations to form a new government. While at the helm, Sarraj successfully defended the capital city of Tripoli from a 14-month assault by Libyan National Army chief Khalifa Haftar. But since Haftar’s defeat, the GNA has been crippled by infighting as well as protests against the government’s mismanagement.

Sarraj’s announcement comes at a key moment in the ongoing peace negotiations between Libyan actors and international powers. On Wednesday, it was reported that Russian and Turkish officials moved closer to an agreement on a long-term ceasefire and a political deal. Turkey and Russia are two of the principal international actors in the conflict, with each supporting opposing sides.

Keep an Eye On 

Back to the past in Bolivia. An opinion poll published on Wednesday suggests that Luis Arce, the candidate representing former Bolivian President Evo Morales’s Movement for Socialism, is leading all other candidates for next month’s presidential election, a sign that Morales’s legacy in the country is still strong. Arce served as the country’s minister of finance from 2006 to 2017, and was a close ally of Morales. According to the poll, Arce’s support stands at 40.3 percent, distantly followed by former President Carlos Mesa and current interim President Jeanine Áñez, the former senator who took over the presidency after Morales’s forced resignation in November.

Maduro accused of crimes against humanity. On Wednesday, U.N. investigators said that the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro committed widespread human rights violations. The findings were published in a damning report on Wednesday that investigated 3,000 alleged cases of torture, and concluded that leading officials including Maduro and his defense and interior ministers were aware of—and sometimes ordered—crimes against humanity committed by the forces of the regime.

Odds and Ends 

More than 200 naked prisoners are on the run somewhere in the north-eastern part of Uganda after escaping jail in the town of Moroto. The escapees, described as “hardcore” criminals who were jailed over offenses related to cattle theft, broke into a local armory and stripped their bright yellow uniforms before fleeing. Three people reportedly died in a gun battle between authorities and the escaping prisoners, but the remaining escapees are still on the run. A search is currently underway.

That’s it for today. 

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Dan Haverty is an editorial fellow at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @dan_haverty

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