Today's D Brief: China winds down Taiwan drills; Beijing's new Taiwan occupation threat; 9 Russian jets destroyed in Crimea; Javelins to Brazil; And a bit more.

China’s military says it’s finally done with blockade practice drills around Taiwan, insisting “all tasks [have been] accomplished” and “troops’ combat capabilities in integrated joint operations effectively verified.” 

But China’s threats to use force around the island are certainly not over, said a spokesman for China’s Eastern Theater Command, Col. Shi Yi, who promised that Beijing’s troops will “continue to carry out military training for war preparedness, organize normalized combat-readiness security patrol in the Taiwan Strait, resolutely safeguarding China’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

And China just formally withdrew a promise never to send troops to Taiwan, according to a new “white paper” made public Wednesday. That’s particularly significant because it updates previous Beijing policy articulated in two similar papers published in 1993 and 2000, according to Reuters

Chinese Communist Party officials also vow to “leave no room for separatist activities in any form,” but note in that new paper, “We are ready to create vast space for peaceful reunification” with Taiwan. “We will only be forced to take drastic measures to respond to the provocation of separatist elements or external forces should they ever cross our red lines,” the paper reads. And any efforts from the island’s troops to defend against Chinese aggression “will end in failure like a mantis trying to stop a chariot,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin on Tuesday, according to Agence France-Presse. (That’s a line from a Chinese fable, by the way; and Chinese diplomats have been using it in the context of Taiwan for some time now.)

What’s in it for Taiwan, in terms of reunification? “Greater security and dignity” once the island reunifies with the Chinese mainland, according to the text.  

CCP officials also wrongly allege that “Taiwan has belonged to China since ancient times.” It would be a useful line if it were true, but it’s “nonsense,” noted China-watcher Patrick Chovanec on Aug. 4. “China didn't annex Taiwan until 1683. Before that, it was simply visited by Chinese fishermen and traders. It was then ruled by China until it was taken by Japan in 1895.” 

From Taiwan’s point of view, the new white paper is “full of lies [and] wishful thinking,” said the island’s Mainland Affairs Council. “Only Taiwan's 23 million people have the right to decide on the future of Taiwan, and they will never accept an outcome set by an autocratic regime,” the council said in a statement. 

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Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson and Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. And check out other Defense One newsletters here. On this day in 1628, Sweden’s impressively huge—and, it was later learned, entirely too tall—warship, Vasa, sank just 20 minutes into her maiden voyage through the Stockholm harbor. 

Ukraine officials say their troops were behind a series of explosions at a Russian airbase in the illegally occupied Crimean peninsula on Tuesday. The attacks at the Saki airbase destroyed at least nine Russian military aircraft, according to a daily tally maintained by the Ukrainian military. The New York Times was among the first outlets to publish a Ukrainian attribution for those surprise attacks in western Crimea. The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Ukrainian special forces were responsible for the explosions, which occurred about 125 miles from Ukrainian forces’ closest known approximate locations along the coast.
Russia’s military says stored munitions exploded “due to poor fire protocol,” which sounds a lot like how they claimed to have lost their Black Sea Fleet flagship, Moskva, in mid-April. Several apparent civilians vacationing in Crimea when the base was attacked promptly packed into their cars and fled the area, causing a traffic jam on the Crimean (or Kerch Strait) bridge, as witnessed in this alleged video from Tuesday. From an outsiders’ perspective, “The Kremlin has little incentive to accuse Ukraine of conducting strikes that caused the damage” at Saki, analysts at the Institute for the Study of War write. That’s because “such strikes would demonstrate the ineffectiveness of Russian air defense systems, which the Ukrainian sinking of the Moskva had already revealed.”
Bigger picture: Russia’s military has been struggling to invade and annex the entirety of Ukraine for 167 days now. It has allegedly lost some 70,000 troops to injuries or death, according to the Pentagon. But it’s got several attempted ground offensives underway presently, including in the east around Siversk, Bakhmut, and around Donetsk City near the Zaporizhia-Donetsk Oblast border, according to ISW. A Ukrainian counteroffensive is allegedly developing near Izyum, just north of Donetsk, “but the Ukrainian General Staff was notably completely silent about the area in its evening report,” ISW notes.
New: Russia has allegedly stood up a new volunteer corps that the British military describes as “a major new ground forces formation.” This one’s based out of Mulino, east of Moscow, and it’s known as the 3rd Army Corps. Most Russian corps number between 15,000-20,000 troops; but it’s unclear how many are filling out the ranks of 3 AC. “Recruitment is open to men up to 50 years old and with only middle-school education,” the Brits say, and speculate that “3 AC’s effect is unlikely to be decisive to the campaign.”
Additional reading: 

The “biggest expansion of veterans’ health care in U.S. history” was just signed into law this morning at the White House. (That's NPR's description there in quotes.) Known informally as the PACT Act, the newly-passed legislation was designed to address various health risks to veterans who have deployed to theaters in the Middle East and Vietnam—spanning complications that may have resulted from exposure to dangerous chemicals in so-called “burn pits” across Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as veterans exposed to “Agent Orange” and radiation. The Department of Veterans Affairs has an explainer on the new bill, which is expected to cost $280 billion over a decade, right here.
Why it matters: Veterans will no longer have to prove their related illness was caused by toxic exposure during their time in the military. Work at any of the relevant locations where troops were exposed to toxic chemicals now bumps the post-exposure conditions to “presumptive” status, meaning “You only need to meet the service requirements for the presumption,” according to the VA.
Post 9/11 exposure zones include Afghanistan, Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Uzbekistan, and Yemen.
Gulf War exposure zones include Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and the United Arab Emirates.
Vietnam-era exposure areas include:

  • All American or Thai military bases in Thailand from Jan. 9, 1962, through June 30, 1976;
  • Laos from Dec. 1, 1965, through Sept. 30, 1969;
  • Cambodia at Mimot or Krek, Kampong Cham Province from April 16, 1969, through April 30, 1969;
  • Guam or American Samoa or in the territorial waters off of Guam or American Samoa from Jan. 9, 1962, through July 30, 1980;
  • And the Johnston Atoll or on a ship that called at Johnston Atoll from Jan. 1, 1972, through Sept. 30, 1977.

Nearly two-dozen specific conditions are newly involved, including “11 respiratory related conditions, along with several forms of cancer, including reproductive cancers, melanoma, pancreatic cancer, kidney cancer, and brain cancers such as glioblastoma,” the White House says in a fact sheet. And “Survivors of veterans who died due to one of these conditions may now also be eligible for benefits,” according to the White House.
“If you’re a veteran or survivor, you can file claims now to apply for PACT Act-related benefits,” the VA says, adding, “If you think you may be eligible for VA health care or benefits, we encourage you to apply now.”
Learn a bit more: NPR’s Quil Lawrence filed a 3-minute report on the bill’s passage that aired Wednesday on “Morning Edition.” You can catch that here.

Lastly: It’s been 10 years since former U.S. Marine Austin Tice went missing while reporting inside Syria. “We know with certainty that he has been held by the government of Syria,” President Biden said Wednesday in a statement commemorating his disappearance.
“On the 10th anniversary of his abduction, I am calling on Syria to end this and help us bring him home,” Biden said. “The Tice family deserves answers, and more importantly, they deserve to be swiftly reunited with Austin…We will not rest until we bring Austin home. Ten years is far, far too long. So is every additional day.”
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