Wednesday, 14 November 2018

US warships pass through Taiwan Strait amid China tensions

FILE PHOTOReuters

The United States sent two warships through the Taiwan Strait on Monday in the second such operation this year, as the US military increases the frequency of transits through the strategic waterway despite opposition from China.

The voyage risks further heightening tensions with China but will likely be viewed in self-ruled Taiwan as a sign of support by President Donald Trump’s government, amid growing friction between Taipei and Beijing.

Reuters was first to report U.S. consideration of the sensitive operation on Saturday.

“The ships’ transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Commander Nate Christensen, deputy spokesman for U.S. Pacific Fleet, said in a statement.

“The US Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows,” he added.

Taiwan’s defense ministry said it closely monitored the operation and was able to “maintain the security of the seas and the airspace” as it occurred.

There was no immediate comment from China.

The US Navy conducted a similar mission in the strait’s international waters in July, which had been the first such voyage in about a year. The latest operation shows the U.S. Navy is increasing the pace of strait passages.

Washington has no formal ties with Taiwan, but is bound by law to help it defend itself and is the island’s main source of arms. The Pentagon says Washington has sold Taiwan more than $15 billion in weaponry since 2010.

China views Taiwan as a wayward province and has been ramping up pressure to assert its sovereignty over the island. It raised concerns over U.S. policy toward Taiwan in talks last week with U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in Singapore.

As the United States prepared for a fresh passage through the strait, it told China’s military that its overall policy toward Taiwan was unchanged.

Mattis delivered that message to China’s Defense Minister Wei Fenghe personally on Thursday, on the sidelines of an Asian security forum.

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