Two U.S. warships sailed through the Taiwan Strait, U.S. and Taiwan defense officials said Monday, a maneuver intended to signal to China that the U.S. could travel in any international waters.
The voyage completed Monday “demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” said Cmdr. Nate Christensen, deputy spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet. “The U.S. Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows,” he said.
China had no immediate reaction to the maneuver, which comes at a time of renewed tensions between Washington and Beijing.
While the U.S. officially adheres to Beijing’s “One-China” policy, which acknowledges that China considers Taiwan part of its territory, U.S. moves such as sending warships through the strait are seen in Taiwan as a demonstration of support for the island’s independence.
The latest U.S. transit came days after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis met in Singapore with his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Wei Fenghe, in what Mr. Mattis said was an effort to reset the strained military relationship between the two countries.
The two discussed a visit by Mr. Wei to Washington, U.S. officials attending the meeting said.
Mr. Mattis, who was in Singapore to meet with his regional counterparts, also repeatedly said the U.S. military would sail and fly in any international waters.
The USS Curtis Wilbur, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, and the USS Antietam, a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser, completed the 16-hour transit on Monday, the U.S. Pacific Fleet said.
The two U.S. warships were making a “routine passage through international waters in the Taiwan Strait,” sailing northward from waters off the self-ruled island’s southernmost point, the official news agency of Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said.
A U.S. official said Chinese vessels shadowed the two U.S. ships, following from what the official called a safe distance.
In July, two U.S. Navy ships sailed through the strait between China and Taiwan, which operates as a sovereign state but which Beijing sees as a renegade province. China in January said it sailed an aircraft carrier battle group through the strait as tensions with Taiwan ramped up.
U.S.-Taiwan relations have been a concern to China since Mr. Trump’s election. In December 2016, before his inauguration, Mr. Trump held a phone call with Taiwan’s president, the first such high-level contact since 1979.
That conversation, seen as a departure from diplomatic norms, prompted both elation and anxiety in Taiwan. While representing a breakthrough of sorts, it also provoked fears of reprisals from Beijing.
After weeks of uncertainty, Mr. Trump in a February 2017 phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping affirmed the “One China” policy that has long underpinned China-U.S. relations. The following April, Mr. Xi visited Mr. Trump at the president’s Florida resort.
Washington’s agreement to cease diplomatic recognition of the government in Taiwan, which Beijing views as a breakaway province, was a precondition for the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China in 1979.
By Nancy A. Youssef
Wall Street Journal