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A Third U.S. Delegation Lands in Taiwan Amid Deepening Ties

Indiana’s governor follows in the footsteps of other national lawmakers led by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb addresses the media.
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb addresses the media.
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb addresses the media in East Chicago, Indiana, on April 19, 2017. Scott Olson/Getty Images

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re following the latest U.S. delegation to Taiwan, terror in Mogadishu, and a car bombing in Moscow.

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Another U.S. Delegation in Taiwan

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re following the latest U.S. delegation to Taiwan, terror in Mogadishu, and a car bombing in Moscow.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Another U.S. Delegation in Taiwan

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb and state commerce officials met with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen today in Taipei, Taiwan, marking the third visit by a U.S. delegation this month.

Holcomb’s delegation follows in the footsteps of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who courted Beijing’s fury at the beginning of August, as well as a group of U.S. lawmakers led by Sen. Ed Markey later in the month.

In a statement, Holcomb’s office said the trip was focused on economic development. It comes at an opportune time, as the passing of the CHIPS and Science Act drives U.S. leaders to build deeper ties with Taiwan, the world leader in semiconductor manufacturing. That relationship is set to grow at the federal level too. Last week, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative announced a fresh round of trade talks, which are expected to begin in the fall.

The bolstering of ties with the democratically ruled island is sure to anger Beijing, which claims Taiwan as its own. It also comes as Washington fears Beijing could take Taiwan by force. It’s not a universal assumption, especially as Chinese President Xi Jinping has plenty on his plate between retaining power and jump-starting a sputtering economy. (FP’s James Palmer explained why it’s still a risky option for Xi in a previous China Brief.)

Whether Taiwan has the ability to defend itself from a mainland assault isn’t something that can be easily proven, but the statistics aren’t promising. As Hilton Yip reported for Foreign Policy this month, Taiwan doesn’t have enough trained pilots to match its advanced fighter jet investments, its conscription program is too short to be effective, and its short-staffed military faces trouble maintaining its full strength.

In keeping with its status as a democracy, its people also have a say in any resource trade-offs. So far, political parties don’t feel the political pressure to change course. As Gerard DiPippo at the Center for Strategic and International Studies has pointed out, while China has spent the last two decades steadily increasing its military budget, Taiwan’s budget has been relatively flat.

Although Washington has been recommending smaller, more agile weaponry to ward off any attack, other forms of preparation are harder to track. As FP’s Amy Mackinnon reported last week, another X-factor, the so-called will to fight, is something U.S. planners are eager to understand—having misjudged it in wars from Vietnam to Iraq to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

If its previous behavior is any indication, China is expected to announce more military drills in response to today’s delegation, with a display of might both meant as a signal and a rehearsal. As FP columnist Howard French wrote last week, the smartest strategy for Taiwan’s defense isn’t necessarily expensive. More anti-ship mines, mobile weaponry, and agile aircraft like attack helicopters might stand a better chance against a Chinese assault than easier-to-target tanks and airstrip-dependent jets.

The right kind of deterrence methods coupled with “astute politics” could help avoid a war altogether, especially if tensions can be drawn out long enough for Xi, or his successors, to turn to internal problems instead. “The best outcome for Taiwan,” French writes, “may be postponing a reckoning with Beijing as long as possible.”


The World This Week

Tuesday, Aug. 23: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov hosts his Syrian counterpart, Faisal Mekdad, in Moscow.

Wednesday, Aug. 24: Angola holds presidential and legislative elections.

Ukraine celebrates its Independence Day.

Thursday, Aug 25: French President Emmanuel Macron visits Algeria.

Sunday, Aug. 28: Brazil’s presidential candidates take part in a televised debate.


What We’re Following Today

Car bomb in Moscow. Darya Dugina, a journalist and the daughter of far-right Russian ideologue Alexander Dugin, was killed in a suspected car bombing near Moscow on Saturday evening. Dugin, who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, is likely to have been the main target of the attack, but he is reported to have made a last-minute change of plans. Ukraine has denied involvement, whereas Russia’s foreign ministry said any evidence linking Kyiv to the attack would be considered “state terrorism.”

Terror in Mogadishu. At least 21 people have been killed in Somalia after al-Shabab militants stormed a hotel in the capital, Mogadishu, government officials said on Sunday; 117 people were injured in the attack, 15 of whom are considered in critical condition. The hotel attack is an immediate challenge to new President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who has pledged to end the Islamist group’s insurgency.


Keep an Eye On

Imran Khan charged. Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan was charged under the country’s Anti-Terrorism Act on Sunday, as tensions between Pakistan’s new government and the man it ousted in April ratchet up. Police allege that a speech Khan gave on Saturday had attempted to intimidate the judiciary and police force by speaking out against the arrest of one of his aides and threatening judges and police officers involved. Khan has not been taken into custody and has not publicly commented on the charges. 

Germany’s nuclear power. German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said on Sunday that Germany would not extend the lifespan of the country’s three remaining nuclear power plants to offset declining gas imports, saying the savings would be negligible. Habeck said he was open to keeping one Bavarian power plant online if stress tests showed it was necessary to maintain electrical grid stability.


Sunday’s Most Read

India’s Taiwan Moment by Harsh V. Pant and Shashank Mattoo
We’re Still Asking the Wrong Questions About War With China Over Taiwan by Howard W. French
Southern Europe Gets a Taste of Power—Literally by Michele Barbero


Odds and Ends

Two Ethiopian Airlines pilots have been suspended for reportedly falling asleep at the controls of a Boeing 737-800. According to a report from the Aviation Herald, the pilots were awakened by an onboard alarm signaling the autopilot had been disconnected. The plane was then landed safely.

The incident came as airline workers have been warning of the threat of fatigue, brought on by grueling hours and haphazard scheduling. Ethiopian Airlines has yet to confirm whether the pilots were asleep but said any “corrective action” will be taken after an investigation.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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