Good morning. President Biden promised military aid to Taiwan, a Russian diplomat resigned in protest, and Times reporters investigated whether Trump-era officials were exploiting state travel for personal gain.
Biden pledges support to Taiwan
At a press conference in Tokyo with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan, a reporter asked President Biden if he would be “militarily involved in the defense of Taiwan,” which he has not done with Ukraine.
“Yes,” Biden said. “That’s the commitment we made,” he added when the reporter insisted.
Biden’s pledge to use military force to defend Taiwan should China ever attack democracy on the island, which he offered without reservation or clarification, ended the “strategic ambiguity” traditionally favored by US presidents.
Biden’s comments also suggested that he would go beyond supplying weapons for Taiwan, as he has done in Ukraine. “It would disrupt the entire region and be another action similar to what happened in Ukraine. And so it’s an even stronger burden,” he said of a hypothetical attack on Taiwan.
context: The White House tried to distort Biden’s comments as a reiteration of a commitment to “provide Taiwan with the military means to defend itself.” But Biden previously ignored the practiced inaccuracy of his predecessors regarding China and Taiwan during his presidency.
Background: Beijing insists that Taiwan is part of China’s territory and cannot exist as a sovereign nation. The US has warned China against using force against Taiwan in the past, while remaining generally vague about how it would respond.
Diplomacy: Biden has enlisted nearly a dozen Asia-Pacific countries to join a new loosely defined economic bloc aimed at countering China and reaffirming US influence in the region.
A Russian diplomat resigns in protest
In the most high-profile gesture of protest yet made by a Russian diplomat over the war in Ukraine, an adviser to the Moscow mission to the UN in Geneva resigned on Monday.
“I have never been so ashamed of my country,” Boris Bondarev, a middle-ranking official, wrote in an email to diplomats. He described the invasion as a crime against both Ukraine and the Russian people, telling The Times that the Kremlin has “basically done everything wrong”.
In Davos, Switzerland, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed business leaders at the World Economic Forum, which Russian diplomats and oligarchs were not allowed to attend.
Zelensky urged leaders to establish secure corridors for Ukrainian grain exports and called for a complete embargo on Russian oil and trade — and the exclusion of all Russian banks from global financial networks.
He also encouraged companies to flee Russia and settle in Ukraine, promising a post-war environment devoid of corruption and untainted by association with “war crimes.”
Did Kushner Exploit Gulf Relations?
Shortly before the 2020 presidential election, Trump administration officials unveiled a US government-sponsored program called the Abraham Fund, which they said would raise $3 billion for projects in the Middle East.
The fund disappeared when Donald Trump left office. But Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and former adviser, and Steven Mnuchin, the Trump Treasury Secretary, each quickly created a private fund that picked up where the idea left off.
A Times investigation questions whether they were trying to exploit official relationships they forged while trying to raise money for the Abraham Fund, for their private business interests. Both soon returned to the Gulf courts as citizens asking for investment.
context: The fund promised to take advantage of the Abraham Accords, diplomatic agreements Kushner had advocated between Israel and some Arab states.
Details: Within three months, Mnuchin’s new company had received $500 million pledges from the Emirates, Kuwaitis and Qataris, and a $1 billion pledge from Saudi’s main sovereign wealth fund. Six months after Kushner left the government, his new company reached an agreement for $2 billion from the Saudis.
Background: A Times report last month revealing the Saudi investments raised the alarm among ethics experts and Democratic lawmakers about the appearance of possible payoffs for official acts during the Trump administration.
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War between Russia and Ukraine: important developments
ART AND IDEAS
A summary of Cannes
At the Cannes Film Festival, you can expect glamour, minute-long standing ovations and passionate boos. The maximalist festival kicked off last week and will last until May 28. Here’s what you need to know.
Why do people think it is important? Cannes has catapulted the careers of many filmmakers, such as Quentin Tarantino for ‘Pulp Fiction’. Winning an award can also help an art film gain wider distribution and recognition. “Parasite”, which won the top prize at Cannes in 2019, won the Oscar for best picture.
Are there major movies premiering? Define big. For the cinephiles, films by David Cronenberg, Claire Denis and Park Chan-wook have a chance to win the top prize. As for potential blockbusters, “Top Gun: Maverick,” the sequel to Tom Cruise’s 1986 hit, and Baz Luhrmann’s biopic of Elvis are also featured.
Any highlights so far? Our critic Manohla Dargis loved ‘Scarlet’, which tells the story of a World War I veteran and his daughter and is ‘filled with lyrical beauty’.
Did something important happen? A screaming woman covered in body paint crashed on the red carpet protesting sexual violence in Ukraine. Days earlier, President Volodymyr Zelensky delivered a virtual speech at the opening ceremony quoting Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator”: the people.” — Sanam Yar