China Tightens Grip on Taiwan Ahead of Lai's Inauguration;Crucial Weeks Loom for Russia's Advance in Ukraine;Algerian Man Found After 26 Years in Neighbor's Cellar:Defense Briefing20240517

Welcome to our show, ‘Defense Briefing.’ I’m your host, Liang Jun. Today, we have a lot to cover, so let’s dive right in! First up, China is ramping up its pressure on Taiwan just before President-elect Lai Ching-te’s inauguration. Increased patrols and sanctions are part of Beijing’s strategy to sway international opinion against Lai, who is known for his pro-sovereignty stance. Analysts are divided on whether Lai will maintain the current administration’s policies or face mounting pressure to improve relations with Beijing, especially as tensions escalate. Next, the war in Ukraine is entering a critical phase. Russian forces are advancing towards Kharkiv, aiming to create a buffer zone and possibly capture the city. This could be a game-changer, but many believe Russia lacks the resources for such an ambitious move. Meanwhile, Ukraine is stretched thin, defending multiple fronts. Finally, in a shocking turn of events, an Algerian man missing for 26 years has been found alive in his neighbor’s cellar. Omar bin Omran, who disappeared during the Algerian civil war, was discovered just 200 meters from his home. The alleged captor has been detained, and Omar is receiving medical and psychological care. Please stay tuned for more detailed coverage.

Nikkei Asia

China has intensified its pressure campaign on Taiwan as President-elect Lai Ching-te’s inauguration approaches. Increased patrols near Taiwan-controlled Kinmen islands and the maiden sea trials of China’s newest aircraft carrier are part of Beijing’s strategy. Additionally, China has sanctioned Taiwanese political pundits and introduced legal measures against “separatists.” Analysts suggest that Beijing aims to force Lai into a mistake that could turn international opinion against him. Lai, from the pro-sovereignty Democratic Progressive Party, is expected to maintain continuity with current President Tsai Ing-wen’s administration. However, the opposition Kuomintang’s legislative victory might pressure Lai to improve relations with Beijing. Tensions have risen, especially after a boat capsized near Kinmen in February, leading to expanded Chinese patrols in disputed waters. Beijing’s actions also include “disciplinary actions” against Taiwanese commentators, indicating a broader strategy to influence public opinion and create a new normal in the Taiwan Strait.

BBC

Ukraine has faced a significant Russian summer offensive, with Russian forces penetrating the border area north of Kharkiv and seizing nearby villages. This move appears to be aimed at creating a buffer zone to protect Russia’s Belgorod region from Ukrainian attacks. Russian forces are also pushing towards Sumy and other strategic locations, potentially to force Ukraine to divert its troops from the eastern Donbas front line. Analysts believe Russia’s main goal is to create a buffer zone, but capturing Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, could be a more ambitious objective. Despite the challenges, Ukrainian forces are determined to hold the line, with reinforcements and new arms supplies expected to bolster their defense. NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe has expressed confidence in Ukraine’s ability to withstand the Russian offensive, although the situation remains tense and fluid.

Al Jazeera

In a shocking revelation, an Algerian man missing for 26 years has been found alive in his neighbor’s cellar. Omar bin Omran, who disappeared in 1998 during Algeria’s civil war, was discovered in a sheepfold hidden by haystacks just 200 meters from his home in Djelfa. The alleged captor, a 61-year-old doorman, was detained after attempting to flee, with the kidnapping uncovered amid an inheritance dispute. Bin Omran, now 45, is receiving medical and psychological care. His discovery brings closure to a mystery that had haunted his community since the “Black Decade,” a period marked by intense conflict between the government and Islamist fighters, resulting in about 200,000 deaths and numerous kidnappings. Bin Omran’s case highlights the enduring scars of the civil war and the ongoing quest for justice by the families of the missing and deceased.

Associated Press: Google is urging a judge, rather than a jury, to decide its upcoming antitrust case in Virginia, which centers on the company’s alleged monopoly in online advertising technology. To support its argument, Google has paid the U.S. government an amount it claims nullifies the need for a jury trial. The tech giant asserts that the case’s complexity, involving intricate and highly technical details, is beyond the everyday knowledge of most jurors. Google contends that the constitutional right to a jury trial does not apply to civil suits brought by the government, and it believes the damages claim was added last minute to secure a jury trial. The company has also paid an amount triple the government’s claimed damages to avoid the need for a jury decision on damages. While Google argues that it’s unprecedented for a jury to decide a government antitrust suit, it has faced jury trials in private antitrust cases before, such as the one brought by Epic Games.

Associated Press: A U.S.-built pier has been established to facilitate humanitarian aid to Gaza by sea, but its effectiveness remains uncertain amid ongoing conflict. The new sea route aims to deliver up to 150 truckloads of aid daily, a fraction of the over 500 truckloads needed to alleviate the humanitarian crisis. The situation in Gaza is dire, with 2.3 million people facing acute food insecurity, and officials stress the need for a ceasefire to provide clinical treatment for the affected population. The U.N. will manage the aid distribution, but concerns about neutrality and safety persist. The U.S. and international aid groups are pressing Israel to allow more aid through land crossings, as the sea route alone cannot meet the needs. Despite Israel’s claims of not limiting humanitarian aid, ongoing fighting and security issues have hindered delivery, and the international community continues to urge for better coordination to ensure the safety of aid workers and the effective distribution of supplies.

The Sydney Morning Herald: Texas Governor Greg Abbott has issued a full pardon for Daniel Perry, a former U.S. Army sergeant convicted of murder for shooting an armed demonstrator during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. The pardon followed a unanimous recommendation from the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, which came after pressure from conservative figures like Tucker Carlson. Perry had been serving a 25-year sentence for the killing of Garrett Foster. The pardon has sparked controversy, with Travis County District Attorney Jose Garza criticizing it as a politicized decision that undermines justice. Prosecutors had portrayed Perry as a racist with a propensity for violence, while the defense argued he acted in self-defense. The case has reignited debates about self-defense laws and the influence of political pressure on judicial decisions. Critics argue that the pardon sends a message that some lives matter more than others, reflecting deep divisions over issues of race and justice in the United States.

Associated Press

Pentagon officials are cautiously optimistic about the recent decline in reported sexual assaults among active-duty service members and military academies, suggesting that leadership efforts are beginning to show results. Beth Foster, executive director of the Pentagon’s office of force resiliency, noted that the department’s commitment is starting to bend the curve on this persistent issue. However, maintaining this progress, particularly in the Army, Navy, and Air Force academies, remains a challenge. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin emphasized the need to intensify efforts to end sexual assault and harassment. The latest report shows 8,515 sexual assaults reported in the last fiscal year, a decrease from 8,942 in 2022, marking the third-highest number since data collection began. A confidential survey revealed a 19% drop in service members experiencing unwanted sexual contact, the first decrease in eight years. Despite these declines, the issue persists, with one in four women and nearly 6% of men in the military reporting sexual harassment, highlighting the extensive nature of the problem.

South China Morning Post

The Israeli army announced that two Thai hostages, Sonthaya Oakkharasr and Sudthisak Rinthalak, believed to be alive in Gaza, were killed in the October 7 attack, and their bodies are being held by Hamas. The Hostages and Missing Families Forum emphasized that the hostage crisis is not solely an Israeli issue, urging international acknowledgment and a united response. Thailand has around 30,000 citizens in Israel, primarily working in agriculture. The attack by Hamas on southern Israel resulted in over 1,170 deaths, mostly civilians, according to Israeli figures. Israel’s military retaliation has led to at least 35,272 deaths, mostly civilians, in Gaza, as reported by the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory. The situation underscores the broader implications of the conflict and the need for global intervention to address the ongoing crisis.

A castle built by Army veteran Mikey Allen on a Welsh mountainside to cope with PTSD and help others with mental health struggles is set for demolition due to planning regulation breaches. Allen, who served in Afghanistan and was once homeless, began building the castle in 2019 after a previous log cabin was demolished for similar reasons. Over five years, the cabin evolved into a two-floor castle with a two-tier tower, attracting over 10,000 visitors from around the world. Despite its positive impact, Caerphilly council determined the land was being used for recreational purposes rather than its registered agricultural use. Allen, undeterred by the setback, plans to dismantle the castle and rebuild two smaller structures: a barn for rescue animals and a basic shelter for visitors. The project, which Allen hopes to complete next year, aims to continue providing a therapeutic space for those in need. The council acknowledged the support for Allen’s project but emphasized the need to enforce planning laws consistently.

South China Morning Post: During a US congressional hearing on China’s global development strategy, concerns were raised about the management of Panama Canal ports by Hutchison Ports PPC, a subsidiary of Hong Kong-based CK Hutchison Holdings. Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi highlighted the risks of allowing Chinese companies to control strategic ports, particularly in the context of potential conflicts involving Taiwan, suggesting that these ports could serve as military bases for Beijing. Hutchison has operated two ports on either side of the Panama Canal since 1997, and while the Pentagon initially dismissed them as a national security threat, the renewal of Hutchison’s contract in 2021 reignited concerns. Daniel Runde from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies advocated for US action to remove Chinese influence from the canal. The hearing also featured discussions on the need for Washington to devise a better alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), with Bradley Parks of AidData noting that the US and its allies had underestimated China’s ambitions. Parks argued that many criticisms of the BRI are outdated as Beijing has adapted its approach. To counter the BRI, the US established the US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and launched initiatives like the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII). However, witnesses noted that the DFC still lags behind China in dollar investments. Runde suggested expanding the DFC’s scope to include middle- and upper-middle-income countries, while David Trulio from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute called for greater incentives to eliminate institutional silos within the US government, making it easier for US businesses to invest in developing countries.

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