Freedom of Navigation: U.S. Navy Warships Sail through Taiwan Strait amid Tensions with China

Marisha Dolly Singh
Barely a month after a U.S. Navy war ship and a Chinese destroyer were embroiled in aggressive maneuvering in the South China Sea, the U.S. Navy has sent two warships to sail through the Taiwan Strait.

Barely a month after a U.S. Navy war ship and a Chinese destroyer were embroiled in aggressive maneuvering in the South China Sea, the U.S. Navy has sent two warships to sail through the Taiwan Strait.

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The USS Antietam, a guided missile cruiser, and the USS Curtis Wilbur, a guided missile destroyer, transited the strait Monday, sailing from south to north.

"USS Curtis Wilbur and USS Antietam conducted a routine Taiwan Strait Transit on October 22, in accordance with international law," Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a spokesman for US Pacific Fleet.

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"The ships' transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific," he added.

The Taiwan Strait constitutes international waters but China is extremely sensitive about any U.S. vessel in the area as it lays claim to Taiwan. Taiwan, however is a self-governed, democratic island, which Beijing views as a breakaway province. Taiwan has been historically close to the U.S. and the Trump administration has not deviated from this geopolitical relationship.

In recent years, the U.S. has only sailed warships through the waterway about once a year. But more importantly, the U.S. Navy has not sailed an aircraft carrier in that area since 2007.

The U.S. Navy warships were tailed by Chinese warships throughout the transit but the increased frequency of the patrols conducted by the US Navy in areas that Beijing has laid claim to, has increased tensions between the two countries.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told journalists Tuesday that China had already expressed "serious concern" to the United States following the transit.

"We urge the U.S. to stick to the one China principle ... and cautiously and appropriately handle the Taiwan issue to avoid harming Sino-US ties, and peace and stability in the Taiwan strait," she said.

Taiwan's premier William Lai said during a parliamentary session on Tuesday that Taiwan respected the US's right of passage in international waters and recognised "the various efforts of the US in maintaining peace in the Asia-Pacific region".

This freedom of navigation movement by the U.S. Navy adds just another spark to the many flashpoints, such as the trade war, that have risen between Washington and Beijing in recent months.