What We’re Watching: China targets Taiwan, Palestinian election heats up, Russia-Ukraine border tensions

What We’re Watching: China targets Taiwan, Palestinian election gets interesting, Russia-Ukraine border tensions

Chinese jets swarm Taiwan: This week, multiple Chinese warplanes penetrated Taiwan's airspace. While Beijing does this quite often to flex its muscles, this time the jets took a different route, and one even got close to the Japanese island of Yonaguni, located less than 70 miles (113 kilometers) north of Taiwan. The maneuvers have been interpreted by experts as a direct warning from the Chinese to Japan not to overplay its hand. (It's worth noting that Tokyo could get dragged into a US conflict with China over Taiwan because, like Taiwan, it has a mutual defense treaty with the US.) More broadly, the flight patterns also indicate that China could surround Taiwan on three sides in an eventual invasion, cutting off the territory from US and Japanese military support. All this comes as the Biden administration has expressed serious concern (paywall) that Beijing is indeed planning to invade Taiwan in the very near term. With US-China relations getting hot, more rumblings over an invasion of Taiwan will surely turn the temperature even higher.


Palestinians' election shake-up: Next month, the Palestinian Authority will hold its first elections since 2006 — and things have started to get very interesting. Palestinian militant Marwan Barghouti, a longtime PA member who is serving multiple life sentences for murdering Israelis, plans to challenge longtime leader Mahmoud Abbas for the presidency. Abbas — who at 85 has led the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority for 16 years and postponed elections in the past for fear of losing — is now facing formidable opposition from two former Fatah veterans: Barghouti, who is extremely popular with Palestinian voters, and Mahmoud Dahlan, a former PA security chief who was exiled after a fierce dispute with the current leadership (Dahlan has been banned from running, but says he will persevere). While Barghouti is doing well in the polls, analysts say that his split with Abbas could help the rival Hamas militant group, which rules the Gaza Strip with an iron fist. Legislative elections are currently scheduled for May 22 and presidential polls for July 31. When elections were last held, a PA-Hamas dispute turned bloody, resulting in an enduring split in Palestinian leadership. What will happen this time?

Russian troops on Ukraine's doorstep: As fighting surged between Russian-backed separatists and government forces in eastern Ukraine this week, Moscow deployed several thousand of its own troops to the Ukrainian border, raising fears that the low-level conflict could get much uglier. The uptick in violence leaves a ceasefire from last summer in tatters. It's now been seven years since Ukrainian protesters ousted a pro-Moscow president, leading Russia to annex Crimea and foment a civil war that brought pro-Moscow separatists to power in two Ukrainian provinces along the Russian border. Peace talks between the two sides have repeatedly broken down over the question of who should do what first: Ukraine wants control over its border, while Russia wants Kyiv to devolve significant power to the separatists and legitimize them with elections. The Russians say their recent troop movements are nothing to worry about and no one else's business, but the Pentagon now considers the uptick in violence an "imminent crisis."

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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28: The UK and the EU have again failed to agree on post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. In a 28-page document, the British government had suggested further changes to trade rules that were already negotiated as part of the Brexit settlement, but Brussels was not having any of it.

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