Wednesday Briefing: South China Sea Tensions Cross a Line

An image taken from video and released by the Philippine Coast Guard showing a diver cutting a rope that kept a Chinese barrier in place in the South China Sea.Credit…Philippine Coast Guard, via Associated Press

Tensions in the South China Sea cross a line

A diver’s underwater cutting of a section of rope in the South China Sea, as shown in a short video clip this week, may seem too simple an act to qualify as a serious international incident.

But that diver was with the Philippine Coast Guard, and the rope was part of a barrier placed by Chinese forces to keep Philippine boats away from an area where they had a legal right to fish. In that moment, the Philippines took one of the most forceful steps yet in contesting China’s expanding territorial claims, which have moved ever closer to the Philippine Islands.

“The barrier posed a hazard to navigation, a clear violation of international law,” the Philippines said in a statement, adding that the action had come on direct orders from Ferdinand E. Marcos Jr., the country’s president. Marcos has signaled that he wants a more muscular foreign policy toward China, which has been mostly rhetoric until now.

Apprehension is rising about the risk a direct clash between China and the Philippines and its allies, including the U.S. Navy fleet patrolling the region. But many analysts say China is likely to stop short of taking military action to avoid provoking the U.S.

Quotable: “It’s natural to feel fear because, should there be a conflict, we will be the first one to feel it,” said Leonardo Cuaresma, the president of the fishermen’s association in a Philippine municipality near where the barrier rope was cut.

Response: Yesterday, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry brusquely dismissed the Philippines’ official statement. “We advise the Philippines not to cause provocation and cause trouble,” he said. After the rope was cut and the Philippines lifted the anchor that had kept it in place, China removed the barrier.

In China, the country wants to make its industrial heartland, in the northeast, more productive, hoping to stave off an economic slump. But Beijing is turning to policies that some economists say have outlived their time.

Russia released a video that appeared to show the commander of its Black Sea Fleet at a meeting of top defense officials.Credit…Russian Defense Ministry, via Reuters

Ukraine admits doubts over Russian commander’s death

Ukraine’s military said it was “clarifying” whether Adm. Viktor Sokolov, the commander of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, had died in a recent missile strike on Moscow’s naval headquarters in Crimea, acknowledging uncertainty after Russia released a video that appeared to show the commander at a meeting of top defense officials.

The authenticity and timing of the video, released by Russia’s Ministry of Defense, could not immediately be verified, but Russian state news media said the meeting took place yesterday.

In Odesa, Ukraine, young sailors are largely stuck on land as Russian warships control the coast, mines line the waterways and nearly all movement of civilian ships remains forbidden.

In the U.S., the government is sending ammunition made with depleted uranium to Ukraine, raising concerns over the material’s potential health and environmental effects.

The aftermath of the explosion in the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan on Monday.Credit…Republic of Artsakh Ministry of Internal Affairs, via Reuters

Fuel depot blast kills 68 in Nagorno-Karabakh

Armenia’s health minister said yesterday that at least 68 people had been killed and 105 remained missing after an explosion on Monday at a fuel depot in the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan.

The cause of the explosion, which produced a large fire that lit up the night sky near the region’s capital, Stepanakert, was not immediately clear. Witnesses reported that the blast had occurred as people lined up to refuel their cars.

More than 28,000 people have fled the region for Armenia in the past week, after a sudden military offensive brought the enclave back under Azerbaijan’s control on Sunday.


Around the World

“Stick with it,” President Biden told striking autoworkers in Michigan yesterday.Credit…Pete Marovich for The New York Times
  • President Biden joined a group of striking General Motors workers in Michigan, an extraordinary gesture of support to a labor union by a sitting American president.

  • Canada’s Parliamentary leader resigned after introducing lawmakers to a 98-year-old Ukrainian who had served with a Nazi SS unit, calling him a “hero.”

  • First Solar, which has struggled but survived in Ohio, is critical to understanding whether the U.S. can sustain the industry.

  • In echoes of the 1980s, Nicaragua’s government has begun confiscating the homes of former political prisoners and dissidents.

  • Scientists believe that a trafficked pangolin is a new species of the strange mammal.

Other Big Stories

  • The U.S. and 17 states filed suit against Amazon, accusing it of illegally protecting a monopoly over swaths of online retail.

  • The Google antitrust trial in the U.S., now in its third week, is shaping up to be perhaps the most secretive antitrust trial of the last few decades.

  • Peter Nygard, once one of the most notable names in the fashion world, faces trial on sex crimes in Toronto.

A Morning Read

A paleontologist described the region as “beyond a UNESCO World Heritage site.”Credit…Marco Garro for The New York Times

Millions of years ago, the Ocucaje Desert in Peru was a gathering place for fantastical sea creatures: Researchers have found evidence of whales that walked, dolphins with walrus faces, aquatic sloths and the world’s heaviest animal. Now, humans are rushing in, and unplanned development is threatening this bounty.


“Portrait of Olusegun Obasanjo, Former President of Nigeria,” 2023.Credit…via Kehinde Wiley and Galerie Templon

Presidential portraits, this time for Africa

The American artist Kehinde Wiley shot to fame in 2018 with an unconventional presidential portrait: Barack Obama seated amid a bright, flowery background. Now, Wiley is again breaking the mold with portraits of 11 current and former African presidents in “A Maze of Power,” which opened Monday in Paris.

“I’m trying to look at the African presidency in images, because there is no tradition of it,” Wiley said. “There is no history surrounding it. The history surrounds Western European cultural hegemony and domination.”


Credit…Armando Rafael for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Cyd Raftus McDowell.

Make this green anchovy butter.

Read “Devil Makes Three,” a novel about a treasure hunt amid the chaos after a coup in Haiti.

Listen to Doja Cat’s new album, “Scarlet,” looks to hip-hop’s past to make her own moment.

Learn to speak marriage language.

Play Spelling Bee, the Mini Crossword, Wordle and Sudoku. Find all of our games here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. See you tomorrow. — Justin

P.S.: Adam Nagourney, a longtime Times reporter, has a new book about the paper.

We welcome your feedback. Send your suggestions to [email protected].

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