Your Thursday Briefing: Tensions Rise as Pelosi Leaves Taiwan

We’re covering a severe drought in Mexico and China’s response to Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.

Nancy Pelosi, the U.S. House speaker, met with Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, and was presented with an award for outstanding contributions to Taiwan.Credit…Taiwan Presidential Office

Pelosi departs Taiwan as tensions rise

Nancy Pelosi, the U.S. House speaker, was welcomed to Taiwan by leaders eager to accept American support. But when she departed on Wednesday, she left behind a crisis.

Pelosi met with Taiwanese lawmakers and then with Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, offering assurance of U.S. support for the island that China claims as its own. The meetings, though light on substance, were widely welcomed in Taiwan as a rare symbolic victory in which a major foreign power showed its support in the face of intense opposition from China.

Taiwan is now bracing for China to begin live-fire military drills on Thursday — an escalation without recent precedent — that could encircle the island and drop missiles only 10 miles from its coast. China also suspended its exports of natural sand to Taiwan and stopped imports of certain types of fruit and fish from the island.

Diplomacy: The Biden administration has spent months building an economic and diplomatic strategy in Asia to counter China, and Pelosi’s visit leaves allies to wonder what damage has been done to the president’s united front. Europe, which mostly does not support the independence of Taiwan, has sought to stay out of the conflict.

In the region: Japan, whose westernmost inhabited island lies less than 70 miles from Taiwan, has increasingly come to view Taiwan as important to its national security.

Ukrainian soldiers returned to a front line position after completing a mission in southeastern Ukraine on July 28.Credit…David Guttenfelder for The New York Times

Ukraine braces for a Russian attack in the south

The Ukrainian military warned its troops that Russia appeared to be massing forces for an attack along the same southern battlefront where the Ukrainians were pushing a counteroffensive.

A Russian assault in the south would lead to a far bloodier battle than Ukraine had hoped for in its push toward the Russian-occupied city of Kherson, where it had been recapturing territory with the help of long-range American-provided rockets.

In the second distinct theater of the war, eastern Ukraine, the fighting has settled into a stalemate of Russian advances and Ukrainian counterattacks. Neither side has moved more than a few miles over weeks of combat.

Related: Olaf Scholz, Germany’s leader, rejected Russia’s claim that technical problems were behind the sharp curtailment in gas flows to Germany. Standing in front of the refurbished turbine at the heart of the dispute, Scholz said the only reason the machine had not yet been returned to Russia was that Gazprom, Russia’s state energy giant, did not want it back.

Credit…César Rodríguez of The New York Times

Extreme drought in Mexico

Mexico is experiencing a severe drought, and much of the country has run almost entirely out of water.

Nearly two-thirds of the country’s municipalities are currently facing a water shortage, forcing people to line up for hours for government water deliveries. Some residents have taken to blocking highways and kidnapping municipal workers to demand more water.

The crisis is particularly acute in Monterrey, one of Mexico’s most important economic hubs. Some neighborhoods have been without water for 75 days, leading many schools to close before the scheduled summer break.

Drinking water is hard to find on shelves in Monterrey, and buckets are scarce at local stores or sold at astronomically high prices. Residents pull together containers to collect water supplied by government trucks sent to the driest neighborhoods.

Climate: Scientists say that human-caused climate change has altered rainfall patterns around the world and is increasing the likelihood of droughts. Most of the Western half of the U.S., just north of Mexico, has been going through its driest two-decade period in 1,200 years. By mid-July, 48 percent of Mexico’s territory was experiencing a drought, a rise from 28 percent last year.

Related: In Mexico, the attorney general confirmed for the first time that the country was investigating its former president, Enrique Peña Nieto, for money laundering and illicit enrichment. But many Mexicans fear that the announcement is nothing more than a political tactic.


World News

Protesters took control of the prime minister’s office in Sri Lanka last month.Credit…Atul Loke for The New York Times
  • Sri Lanka’s government arrested several leaders of the protest movement that toppled the nation’s president last month.

  • The group of oil producers known as OPEC Plus approved a small increase in production, following calls from President Biden to take action to cool prices.

  • Phone and internet equipment from Chinese technology companies were declared a grave threat by the U.S. in 2019. Three years later, most of that equipment remains.

  • New Zealand’s newly released climate adaptation plan suggests relocating tens of thousands of homes to higher ground, The Associated Press reported.

U.S. News

Celebration in Overland Park, Kan., on Tuesday night after voters rejected a referendum that could have led to the restriction of abortion rights.Credit…Arin Yoon for The New York Times
  • Abortion rights supporters won a significant victory on Tuesday. Kansas voters resoundingly rejected an amendment that would have let lawmakers restrict abortions.

  • The C.I.A. had tracked Ayman al-Zawahri — the Al Qaeda leader killed in a drone strike over the weekend — for decades. His morning habit of reading alone on his balcony finally gave them a clear shot.

  • Researchers who previously revived some brain cells in dead pigs succeeded in repeating the process in the heart, liver and kidneys, raising questions about the permanence of death.

A Morning Read

Franck Kessie, another summer signing, playing against Real Madrid in Las Vegas last month. The single exhibition match generated $18 million in revenue.Credit…Ethan Miller/Getty Images

F.C. Barcelona, the Spanish soccer giant, was unable to meet its huge payroll last year and described by its own chief executive as “technically bankrupt.” Now, saddled with debt of more than $1.3 billion, the club has decided the best way out of a crisis caused by financial mistakes and extravagant contracts is to spend its way out.


The Bitcoin evangelists

In recent months, a crash in the cryptocurrency market has wiped out about $1 trillion in value and revealed much of the industry to be no more than an interconnected web of risky ventures and casino-like trading practices.

But a subset of the crypto community — known as a Bitcoin maximalists, or “maxis” — are still buying as confidently as ever. Even as the price of their preferred digital coin, Bitcoin, plummeted earlier this year, they continued to believe that it would transform the financial system even as fraud pervades the rest of the crypto ecosystem. (Bitcoin is simply “going on sale,” they say.)

The debate being fueled by the maxis has become a battle for crypto’s future. They say they are trying to steer the industry back to some of its original ideals, as new regulatory scrutiny and mounting consumer distrust pose an existential threat. They also spot an opportunity to profit from the downturn, but it is yet to be seen whether the rest of the world will buy into their plan.


What to Cook

Credit…Ryan Liebe for The New York Times

This skillet chicken recipe is inspired by ingredients used in Moroccan cuisine: orange and ground turmeric.

What to Listen To

Five minutes that will make you love Duke Ellington.

What to Read

Yasmine El Rashidi, a journalist and novelist, guides readers through Cairo.

Now Time to Play

Play today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Ocean motion (four letters).

Here are today’s Wordle and Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. See you next time. — Matthew

P.S. A new New York Times documentary explores Tesla’s difficulty in making automated driving a reality.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about Democrats bankrolling far-right candidates.

You can reach Matthew and the team at [email protected].

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