US Navy ships sail through Taiwan Strait

Two US Navy vessels sailed through the Taiwan Strait on Wednesday, Taiwan’s defence ministry reported. The ministry said that the two vessels – one warship and one supply ship – sailed through the strait’s international waters, adding that the island is capable of defending its maritime territory and airspace security.

The Pentagon confirmed Wednesday’s passage. Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Logan said in an email that the USS Stockdale, a guided-missile destroyer, and the USNS Pecos, a replenishment oiler, “conducted a routine Taiwan Strait transit November 28 in accordance with international law”.

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“The ships’ transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” he said, “The US Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.”

It was the US Navy’s third such show of support for the self-ruled island this year, following similar passages in July and October.

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Beijing regards Taiwan as a wayward province to be brought under its rule, by force if necessary.

The passage came just days after the island’s independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party suffered humiliating defeat in local elections by the opposition Kuomintang (KMT), leading the Chinese state-run newspaper China Daily to declare the results a renunciation of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s “separatist stance”.

In talks this month in Washington with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Defence Secretary James Mattis, Chinese officials reiterated their opposition to US support for Taiwan.

Yang Jiechi, China’s top diplomat and a member of the Communist Party Politburo, warned the US that “Taiwan independent forces and their separatist activities pose the biggest threat to peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait”.

“The US should recognise it clearly,” he said during a joint press conference following the talks.

The US has had no formal ties with Taiwan since it switched its diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979. It conducts unofficial relations with the island and remains its sole arms supplier.

As Chinese President Xi Jinping is set to meet his US counterpart Donald Trump at G20 summit in Argentina at the end of the week, Taiwan is a growing source of friction.

Last month, Xi told the military region responsible for monitoring Taiwan and the South China Sea to “prepare for war”. On the same day, Chinese defence minister Wei Fenghe also vowed that the mainland would not cede “a single inch” of its territory.

– s c m p

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