- A US Navy destroyer and a Coast Guard cutter sailed through the Taiwan Strait on Sunday.
- The transit comes as the US increases its activity in the waterway to underscore its “commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
- The mission angered China, though Taiwan is likely to regard it as a gesture of support from Washington.
The US sent Navy and Coast Guard ships through the Taiwan Strait on Sunday, the military said, as Washington increases the frequency of movement through the strategic waterway despite opposition from China.
The voyage – the fifth such transit in six months – risks further raising tensions with China but will likely be viewed by self-ruled Taiwan as a sign of support from Washington amid growing friction between Taipei and Beijing.
The two ships were identified as the Navy destroyer Curtis Wilbur and the Coast Guard cutter Bertholf, a US military statement said.
“The ships’ transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the statement said. “The US will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.”
- US Coast Guard/Petty Officer 2nd Class David Weydert
The Bertholf departed its homeport in California on January 20 to support US Indo-Pacific Command on a months-long mission in the western Pacific Ocean. The Coast Guardsmen aboard sailed without pay, as the cutter went to sea amid a protracted government shutdown that required the service to work without funding.
The Bertholf arrived at Sasebo Naval Base in southern Japan on March 3 and spent part of this month in the East China Sea on the lookout for ships violating UN sanctions on North Korea.
Taiwan is one of a growing number of flash points in the US-China relationship, which also include a trade war, US sanctions, and China’s increasingly muscular military posture in the South China Sea, where the US also conducts freedom-of-navigation patrols.
Washington has no formal ties with Taiwan but is bound by law to help defend the island nation and is its main source of arms. The Pentagon says Washington has sold Taiwan more than $15 billion in weaponry since 2010.
China has been ramping up pressure to assert its sovereignty over the island, which it considers a wayward province of “one China” and sacred Chinese territory.
- (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
China has repeatedly sent military aircraft and ships to circle the island on drills in the past few years and worked to isolate the island internationally, whittling down its few remaining diplomatic allies.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Beijing had paid “close attention to and monitored” the US ships as they sailed through the strait and had “made representations to the US side.”
“We urge the US to strictly adhere to the one-China principle and the three US-China joint communiques and carefully and properly handle Taiwan-related issues so as not to damage US-China relations or cross-strait peace and stability,” Shuang added.
The US Defense Intelligence Agency released a report earlier this year describing Taiwan as the “primary driver” for China’s military modernization, which it said had made major advances in recent years.
President Donald Trump has said trade negotiations with China were progressing and a final agreement “will probably happen,” adding that his call for tariffs to remain on Chinese imported goods for some time did not mean talks were in trouble.
(Reporting for Reuters by Idrees Ali; editing by Sandra Maler)