January 28, 2023

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Asian Food and Travel Chronicles

Your Tuesday Briefing: China Menaces Taiwan

4 min read

China sent a record number of military aircraft to menace Taiwan on Sunday and into Monday morning, a signal that Beijing wants to maintain pressure on Taiwan even as some tensions between China and the U.S. are easing.

According to Taiwan, the military activity included at least 71 aircraft made up of Chinese fighter jets, maritime patrol planes and drones. Taiwan says that 47 of those aircraft crossed the so-called median line in a provocative breach of an informal boundary between the two sides.

The large show of force came after President Biden bolstered U.S. support for the self-governed island democracy: A military policy bill that he signed on Friday approved up to $10 billion over the next five years for Taiwan.

Background: Tensions over Taiwan have been rising since Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, visited in August. China has denounced the U.S.’s support as an attempt to contain it, and to interfere in its domestic affairs.

The Korean Peninsula: Several North Korean drones crossed into South Korean airspace yesterday. In response, South Korea fired warning shots and sent surveillance drones into the North’s airspace.

Covid seems to be spreading like wildfire in China. Even as the central government’s official numbers remain low, regional numbers tell a different story, suggesting explosive outbreaks and overstretched health care systems.

One province and three cities have reported Covid estimates far exceeding official tallies in recent days. An official in Zhejiang Province, home to 65 million people, estimated that daily cases there had exceeded one million. In the city of Qingdao, which has a population of 10 million, a health minister said that there were roughly half a million new cases each day, a number he expected would rise sharply in the coming days.

These numbers contrast sharply with those from China’s national health commission, which on Friday reported about 4,000 Covid cases for the entire country. They also contradict the picture that the Communist Party has presented since its abrupt about-face on Covid policy in early December. Since then, health experts and state news media outlets have downplayed Covid’s severity.

The Communist Party cast aside restrictive “zero Covid” policy, which set off mass protests that were a rare challenge to the Communist leadership.

Reaction: The government’s absence at a moment of crisis has made the public question its credibility. “No one is in charge now,” one man said.

New rules: China will drop its quarantine requirement for incoming travelers from Jan. 8.

What’s next: Some experts believe the outbreak could cause over a million deaths in the next few months.

Three months after a blast ripped through the Nord Stream gas pipeline, no culprit has been identified, and a motive is still murky.

A major issue in the investigation is that the pipeline, which runs along the Baltic Sea floor between Russia and Germany, is an ideal crime scene for a perpetrator. The cables are not closely monitored, ships come and go constantly from the nine countries bordering the sea and vessels can easily hide by turning off their tracking transponders.

New York’s casinos openly try to lure people of Asian descent. Every morning, hundreds of older Chinese immigrants in New York City take a two-hour bus ride north to play slot machines, collecting a $45 slot machine voucher with each trip.

Many rely on the bus routine for income, entertainment and community. But gambling can be a gateway to addiction and debt, and there’s a lack of problem-gambling services for the community.

Several popular television programs in China feature contestants mostly in their 50s, and above, looking for love. The shows are encouraging conversations about the social, romantic and sexual needs of older people.

They’re similar to shows featuring younger contestants: Hopefuls discuss hobbies, strut for the camera and size up each other’s appearances. But in between the lighthearted flirtations, the programs also tackle some of the heavier realities of China’s rapidly aging population, one-third of which is expected to be 60 or older by 2050.

All guests are asked about their health and pensions. Often, participants are startlingly blunt — a widower recalled tender memories of his wife and a divorced woman described a loneliness so deep that she started talking to her television.

“It’s not like they’re showing their best sides at first and hiding their flaws for later,” one 35-year-old viewer said. “They’ll just directly make clear their bottom line because they’ve lived a whole life, and they know what they can tolerate.”