Your Tuesday Briefing: China’s New Military Drills Near Taiwan

Just a day after ending its largest-ever military exercises near Taiwan, China announced new operations in the area.

It’s a sign that Beijing will keep up its military pressure on Taiwan, and could be normalizing its presence around the island before gradually cutting off access to its airspace and waters.

Taiwan’s defense ministry said it had detected multiple Chinese war ships involved in nearly 40 sorties near the island, including 21 that crossed the informal median line in the Taiwan Strait between the island and the mainland.

Background: Beijing cast the military exercises as punishment for last week’s visit from U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But they also offered a warning to allied countries like Japan, and served as practice for a possible attack.

Context: Xi Jinping, China’s most powerful leader in generations, has made it clear that he sees uniting Taiwan and China as a key goal. He is also keen to project an image of strength before a Communist Party congress scheduled in the fall, when he is expected to be confirmed to a third term.

Related: When a Taiwanese democracy activist was jailed in China, his wife drew international attention to his plight.

“There was a mass grave that held 300 people, and I was standing at its edge,” writes Natalia Yermak, a Ukrainian reporter and translator for The Times. “The chalky body bags were piled up in the pit, exposed. One moment before, I was a different person, someone who never knew how wind smelled after it passed over the dead on a pleasant summer afternoon.”

Yermak was reporting from Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, near the front lines of the war with Russia, where deaths are an “inescapable reality that feels like the very air in your lungs.”

She thought that such tragedies would not follow her west — but once Yermak returned to Kyiv, she learned that her best friend’s cousin had been killed fighting in the east, and that she would soon have to stand over another grave.

“It was an experience familiar to many Ukrainians,” Yermak wrote. “Five months after the full-scale Russian invasion began, the wars’ front lines mean little. Missile strikes and the news of death and casualties have blackened nearly every part of the country like poison.”

Other war news:

A year after the U.S. military departed Afghanistan, the country finds itself in a position of dire need.

The scale of suffering there today is difficult to fathom. Despite more than $100 billion in development spending by the West, Afghanistan has remained one of the poorest and most aid-dependent states in the world. Actions by the country’s fundamentalist Taliban government, like largely denying education to young women and decreeing that women must wear burqas, could undermine global good will and deplete the country’s work force — especially in critical fields like medicine.

Even members of the government have expressed frustration with the culture war encouraged by the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, particularly those responsible for reviving a failing state.

“Why are we making problems for ourselves with these announcements? Just do your work,” one Taliban bureaucrat, a former military commander, told The Times Magazine. “People are just hearing these announcements about clothes — they aren’t seeing any actual work.”

When President Biden announced last week that a U.S. drone strike in Kabul killed Ayman al-Zawahri, the leader of Al Qaeda, he appeared to exaggerate al-Zawahri’s role in major attacks.

Current artificial intelligence technology is not actually sentient, and can’t create robots who can emote, converse or jam on lead vocals like a human. But it can mislead people, writes my colleague Cade Metz.

Olivia Newton-John sang pop hits in the 1970s and ’80s and starred in “Grease,” one of the most popular musical films of its era. She died on Monday at 73.

Scientists say that there is only one option when you see a spotted lanternfly in the U.S.: Kill it on sight.

For years, American officials have urged people to squash the attractive but destructive insects, which scientists believe arrived in the country in 2011 in a shipment of stones. But the invasive bugs, native to parts of Asia, are proliferating in New York City and elsewhere.

Freelance bug-squishers cannot turn back the lanternfly tide by themselves. But lanternflies, one urban ecologist told The Times, “invite a lot of participation.” She hopes that citizen exterminators will engage their representatives on the pest, and turn their attention to other invasive species as well.

Invasive pests are tenacious. Rabbits in Australia became an ecological and economic scourge after they were introduced in the 19th century. Scientists killed hundreds of millions of them by introducing the myxoma virus — the deadliest vertebrate virus — but as Carl Zimmer wrote in June, the rabbits adapted and kicked off an evolutionary arms race.

But if New Yorkers can’t check the lanternfly, there’s a silver lining: they feed on the tree of heaven, a tough, stinky invader with which city-dwellers have a love-hate relationship.

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