The D Brief: China encircles Taiwan with ‘punishment’ drills; UK DM says China is helping Russia in Ukraine; New Raider photos; And a bit more.

Beijing’s military launched military air and naval exercises encircling the self-governed island of Taiwan on Thursday, framing the actions as a direct response to Taiwan’s newly elected President Lai Ching-te, who took office on Monday.  

Involved: At least 15 Chinese navy ships, 16 Chinese coast guard vessels, and 49 aircraft operating around Taiwan and its outlying islands, according to Taipei’s defense ministry. 

China’s military called the drills “a powerful punishment for the separatist forces seeking ‘independence’ and a serious warning to external forces for interference and provocation,” according to a statement from the Eastern Theater Command, which directs activity in the vicinity of Taiwan. 

Beijing’s foreign ministry views the drills as “a necessary and legitimate move to crack down on ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist forces and their separatist activities and send a warning to external interference and provocations,” said spokesman Wang Wenbin Thursday in the capital.

And China will do it over and over as long as it has to, said Wenbin. “Each time ‘Taiwan independence’ separatists make waves, it garners stronger effort from China and the rest of the world to defend the one-China principle,” he said. 

Taiwan’s reaction: “We seek no conflicts, but we will not shy away from one,” the military said on social media several times Thursday. “We have the capacity and confidence to ensure our security and defend our sovereignty,” it added, and asked for nations around the world to “condemn [Beijing’s] irrational action.” 

Flashback: “China conducted the largest of such exercises in recent years in August 2022 to protest the visit to Taiwan of Nancy Pelosi, who was the House speaker at that time,” the New York Times reminds readers. “Those drills, which included the firing of Chinese missiles near and over Taiwan, covered six swaths of sea surrounding the island,” and lasted nearly a week. 

Developing: Britain’s military chief appeared to claim China is providing lethal aid to Russia for the war in Ukraine. “Today I can reveal that we have evidence that Russia and China are collaborating on combat equipment for use in Ukraine,” Defense Minister Grant Shapps said Wednesday during a speech in London. “This is new intelligence which leads me to be able to declassify and reveal this fact today,” he reportedly added, and stressed, “I think it’s quite significant.” 

One problem: The White House disagrees, with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan telling reporters Wednesday afternoon, “We have not seen [supporting evidence] to date. I look forward to speaking with the UK to make sure that we have a common operating picture.” 

Sullivan did note, however, that China is allegedly helping “fuel Russia’s war machine—not giving weapons directly, but providing inputs to Russia’s defense industrial base,” he said Wednesday. “That is happening, [and] that is something we’re concerned about,” Sullivan said.

By the way: Russia’s notably sharp rise in Chinese imports was a discussion point in episode one of our recent three-part podcast series looking into the rise of global defense spending. 

“We see a huge increase of all sorts of products, but particularly the technologically important ones from China, since March 2023,” said Maria Snegovaya of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, co-author of a recent report on Russia’s defense industry. What’s more, she explained, “We see that there's a lot of shell companies that are participating in these transactions. [And] It's very, very hard to sanction the move because you sanction one company, [on] the next day, the next one opens up with the same group of employees on board.”

China’s reaction to the British allegations: “It’s the UK, not China, that has been fanning the flames on Ukraine,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Wenbin on Thursday. “We will keep working hard to push for peace talks and oppose fanning the flames. Meanwhile, we will defend our legitimate rights and interests,” he said before ending the day’s press conference. 

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Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson and Lauren Williams. Share your newsletter tips, reading recommendations, or feedback here. And if you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1618, religious intolerance in Europe reached a legendary boiling point with the so-called “defenestration of Prague,” which launched one of the longest and deadliest conflicts in European history known as the Thirty Years War.

New B-21 photos: The folks at California’s Edwards Air Force Base posted three new images of the military’s newest airframe, the B-21 Raider, Wednesday online and on social media

Did we learn anything new? That’s debatable. But we did see “our first official lower-angle view of the B-21,” Tyler Rogoway writes for The War Zone. We also can see “the aircraft's auxiliary intake doors open” for the first time, he adds. 

Why it matters: “The fact that the USAF chose to publicize the B-21's progress at all at this early stage in flight testing, it having took to the skies for the first time just six months ago, is a good indication as to the program's momentum,” Rogoway reports. Read on, here

Ahead of the Navy’s new information strategy expected in July, service officials say they want to piggyback on the Army’s data analytics efforts through a new policy that encourages secure information sharing, Defense One’s Lauren Williams reported Wednesday. 

Background: Last week, the Defense Department’s chief information office released a cybersecurity reciprocity handbook to help military departments and defense agencies protect data and speed up the authority to operate, or ATO, process where one already exists. The ATO process has long been a pain point across the Defense Department, particularly when it comes to upgrading software. And for the Navy, the Army’s data efforts with the AI-company Palantir is a good place to start, Williams writes. More, here

Update: In a 57-1 vote, the House Armed Services Committee approved its $895 billion defense policy bill Wednesday evening ($850 billion for the Defense Department) after an unusually efficient and relatively drama-free markup through the afternoon. 

“Strengthening our military and investing in our defense is how we send our adversaries a message that we will not be intimidated,” HASC Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Alabama, said in a statement afterward. 

The bill, as advanced, “will boost compensation, improve housing, expand access to medical care, increase access to childcare, and provide support for the spouses of servicemembers,” as well as “support the continued modernization of our nuclear deterrent, invest in our Naval fleet, boost innovation, and revitalize our defense industrial base to ensure our warfighters have the capabilities they need to win on future battlefields,” said Rogers. 

Read more: Politico’s Connor O’Brien reviewed what made it in and what was left out, here and here

D.C. dispatch: On Wednesday, Israel Aerospace Industries opened its first visitor center just blocks from the U.S. Capitol. The facility was designed as a meeting place for government officials and American partners, Defense One’s Lauren Williams reports. 

IAI also plans to open an innovation center in July. Together, the two facilities will serve “as a bridge” between the company and decision makers in Washington, D.C., said Amir Peretz, IAI’s board chair and former defense minister.

Background: The visitor center was originally scheduled to open Oct. 9, but was postponed following Hamas’ attack on Israel days before. The event had several high-profile attendees including Michael Herzog, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gen. Hedi Zilberman, of the Israel Defense Forces, and John Rood, the Pentagon’s former head of policy.

In his address, Ambassador Erdan said Israel’s defense technology “has a direct influence on Israel's global standing” and can help foster relations with countries that don’t have diplomatic relationships with Israel. “When it comes to air defense and military systems, politics can be moved aside and cooperation moves to front and center,” he said.

The Pentagon and SpaceX could be playing an unending game of whack-a-mole to identify and shut off Starlink satellite terminals obtained by Russia to use in Ukraine, a top Pentagon official said this week. “I think this will be a continuous problem. We can continue to identify them and turn them off, but I think Russia will not stop" at trying to get more terminals, John Hill, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for space and missile defense, told the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces Tuesday.

The Pentagon is working with SpaceX to address Russia’s use of Starlink through its commercial integration cell at U.S. Space Command, Defense One’s Audrey Decker reports. That cell allows commercial companies and the government to work together and share company proprietary information and classified information, Hill said. Read on, here

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