Sunak Debuts in Washington

Welcome back to World Brief, where British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak visits the United States, Taiwan activates its defense system against Chinese air incursions, and Afghanistan reels from a deadly memorial service bombing.

Welcome back to World Brief, where British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak visits the United States, Taiwan activates its defense system against Chinese air incursions, and Afghanistan reels from a deadly memorial service bombing.

U.S. President Joe Biden welcomed British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to the Oval Office on Thursday in Sunak’s first such meeting since taking the top job just about seven months ago. Despite the two leaders’ differing ideological views, Biden and Sunak found common ground across the board—from military aid for Ukraine to supply-chain cooperation and artificial intelligence (AI).

Washington and London have long enjoyed a “special relationship,” but U.S.-British diplomacy has been far from smooth sailing in recent years. Biden struggled to find a friend in former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose legacy included COVID-19 partying scandals and corruption allegations. That relationship only worsened during the brief reign of Liz Truss, who catapulted the country’s economy into the ground and received worse press than a head of lettuce. Now, Sunak hopes to reforge close ties with Britain’s favorite ally, including by establishing closer investment links and creating a supply-chain pipeline that bypasses China. “Just as interoperability between our militaries has given us a battlefield advantage over our adversaries, greater economic interoperability will give us a crucial edge in the decades ahead,” Sunak emphasized prior to the meeting.

Of the many issues discussed at Thursday’s meeting, Sunak prioritized AI above all else. On Wednesday, the British prime minister announced that London would host the first major global summit on AI regulation this fall. This appears to be a direct response to the United States’ meeting with European Union lawmakers late last month, when they co-launched three expert groups to monitor emerging AI technology risks; Britain has largely been left out of U.S.-EU tech negotiations since leaving the bloc in 2020. Now, Sunak wants to convince the Biden administration to let the United Kingdom run point on AI innovation and regulation. “We are the natural place to lead the conversation,” Sunak said, adding that China would be excluded from the summit to promote Western AI leadership.

Sunak and Biden also discussed Russia’s war in Ukraine, addressing the attack on Ukraine’s Nova Kakhovka dam that forced thousands of people to evacuate due to mass flooding and spurred an ecological disaster. London and Washington are top contributors of military aid to Ukraine, with Britain even working to send F-16 fighter jets to Kyiv.

ADIZ alert. The Taiwanese military is not taking any chances. On Thursday, the island activated its defense system after 37 Chinese aircraft violated Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) before some of them diverted into the Western Pacific. Of the aircraft used, China launched J-11 and J-16 fighter jets as well as nuclear-capable H-6 bombers. Reports indicate that China did not enter Taiwan’s territorial airspace. Beijing does not recognize Taipei as a sovereign nation.

Taiwan’s ADIZ is not internationally recognized sovereign territory but rather a self-declared buffer area used to monitor national security threats; its ADIZ is much larger than its accepted airspace territory, as it overlaps with China’s ADIZ. In other words, the larger perimeter allows Taipei to have more time to respond to threats from the Chinese mainland. This has proved necessary in recent months as Beijing has stepped up its incursion threats, with its largest mission this year on April 9 including 11 warships and 70 aircraft near the island.

Explosion in Afghanistan. A deadly attack rocked northern Afghanistan on Thursday after an unknown assailant targeted the memorial service of Nisar Ahmad Ahmadi, a Taliban official killed in a car bombing on Tuesday. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for Ahmadi’s death. At least 11 people were killed—including Safiullah Samim, a former Taliban police chief—and over 30 more were injured in the explosion. Both former Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Taliban military chief Fasihuddin Fitrat condemned the attack.

Since taking power, the Taliban have vowed to prioritize eradicating Islamic State militants from the country. However, reports indicate the regime has used this promise as cover to target its enemies, including former U.S.-trained operatives, while letting Islamic State factions and other terrorist groups go free, FP columnist Lynne O’Donnell reported in April.

A U.S. aid about-face. The U.S. Agency for International Development suspended its food assistance program to Ethiopia on Thursday after uncovering a “widespread scheme” to divert the aid away from those suffering from hunger. Instead, local officials were found to have stolen the donated food and either given it to the military and ex-combatants or sold it on the open market. “We cannot move forward with distribution of food assistance until reforms are in place,” the agency announced in a statement. According to the United Nations World Food Program, more than 20 million Ethiopians are in need of food assistance.

This is a drastic about-face for the Biden administration, which began lifting financial restrictions on Ethiopia only months ago. At the time, human rights advocates warned of corruption within Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government, saying Biden had not done enough to hold Ethiopia accountable for ethnic cleansing and other atrocities during its two-year civil war against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.

Scientists published a study on Wednesday documenting the first “virgin birth” among crocodiles. The female croc had been living in isolation for 16 years at a Costa Rican zoo when she gave birth to an egg carrying a stillborn baby crocodile. As Jurassic Park famously taught us, life finds a way.

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