Your Tuesday Briefing: China Menaces Taiwan

China’s military flights around Taiwan have increased in the past few months.Credit…Gong Yulong/Xinhua, via Associated Press

China’s show of force in Taiwan

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.

As the gap between China’s official data and public perception has grown, so has online ridicule.Credit…Noel Celis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Covid surges in China

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.

Understand the Situation in China

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

  • Medicine Shortages: As Covid rips through parts of China, millions are struggling to find treatment — from the most basic cold remedies to take at home to more powerful antivirals for patients in hospitals.
  • Traumatized and Deflated: Gripped with grief and anxiety, many in China want a national reckoning over the hard-line Covid policy. Holding the government accountable may be a quixotic quest.
  • A Cloudy Picture: Despite Beijing’s assurances that the situation is under control, data on infections has become more opaque amid loosened pandemic constraints.
  • In Beijing: As Covid sweeps across the Chinese capital, Beijing looks like a city in the throes of a lockdown — this time, self-imposed by residents.

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.

Before Nord Stream came online, many feared that it would make Europe too reliant on Russian gas.Credit…Laetitia Vancon for The New York Times

A Nord Stream mystery

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.

Many European governments and experts see Russia as the most likely saboteur. But the theory that Russia carried out the blasts has only become more complicated.

Russia has quietly taken steps to begin expensive repairs on the giant gas pipeline. Consultants for Russia are also studying how long the damaged pipes can withstand saltwater exposure. The inquiries raise the question of why, if Russia bombed its own pipelines, it would begin the expensive work of repairing them.

Russia-Ukraine war updates:

  • Russian media said three troops died after a Ukrainian drone attacked a base deep inside Russia. The attacks have potentially complicated Russia’s campaign of striking Ukraine’s energy grid.

  • Ukrainian authorities warned people to evacuate Kherson after a deadly attack on Saturday.

  • Russia’s mercenaries with the same shadowy Wagner Group now fighting in Ukraine have already established control in the Central African Republic, where Russia has gold and diamond mining interests.


Asia Pacific

China sees a potential ally in Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Nepal’s new prime minister.Credit…Navesh Chitrakar/Reuters
  • Nepal’s Parliament elected a new prime minister: Pushpa Kamal Dahal. The former rebel leader has led Nepal twice before and will likely keep the old guard in power, despite calls for change.

  • Several international aid organizations temporarily suspended operations in Afghanistan after the Taliban barred women from working at nongovernmental organizations.

  • The U.N. fears that 180 Rohingya refugees stranded for weeks in the Andaman Sea may have died.

  • Heavy snow killed at least 17 people in Japan, The Associated Press reports.

U.S. News

Thousands remain without power in the Buffalo region of New York.Credit…Jalen Wright for The New York Times
  • A raging winter storm left at least 27 people dead in New York State and four people dead in Canada.

  • After snow stranded its van in front of a house in New York, a South Korean tour group spent the weekend with the residents.

  • After their success in the midterms, Democrats are fighting to expand voting access.

A Morning Read

“As you get older, staying at home is very lonely,” one former restaurant worker said.Credit…Janice Chung for The New York Times

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.


China’s dating shows for older people

The dating shows attract younger viewers, who often watch clips on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok.Credit…Yuan Lai Bu Wan

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.”


What to Cook

Credit…Julia Gartland for The New York Times (Photography and Styling)

Tired of holiday cooking? Try these easy braised white beans with greens.

What to Read

In “Ghost Music,” a piano teacher in Beijing struggles to connect to her husband and mother-in-law over meals of mysterious mushrooms.

What to Watch

“Broker,” by the Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-Eda, was filmed in South Korea and brings gentle humanity to stories that might otherwise be unbearably grim.


Take these small steps to improve your mental health next year.

Now Time to Play

Play the Mini Crossword, and a clue: Hesitate (five letters).

Here are the Wordle and the Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. See you tomorrow. — Amelia

P.S. “Happiness Is £4 Million,” a video from our Opinion desk, is on the shortlist for the Academy Awards in the documentary short film category. It is a textured portrait of a Chinese real estate speculator and the young journalist assigned to profile him.

“The Daily” is about Ukrainian refugees.

You can always email us at [email protected].

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