The U.S. military said it sent two Navy warships through the Taiwan Strait on Sunday as the Pentagon increases the frequency of movement through the strategic waterway despite opposition from China.
The voyage risks further raising tensions with China but will likely be viewed by self-ruled Taiwan as a sign of support from the Donald Trump administration amid growing friction between Taipei and Beijing.
Taiwan is one of a growing number of flashpoints in the U.S.-China relationship, which also include a trade war, U.S. sanctions and China’s increasingly muscular military posture in the South China Sea. The two destroyers were identified as the William P. Lawrence and Stethem. The 180-km Taiwan Strait separates Taiwan from China.
“The ships’ transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Commander Clay Doss, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet, said in a statement. Commander Doss said there were no unsafe or unprofessional interactions with other countries’ vessels during the transit.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Defence said the U.S. ships had sailed north through the strait. “U.S. ships freely passing through the Taiwan Strait is part of the mission of carrying out the Indo-Pacific strategy,” it said.
China expresses concern
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China had paid close attention to the sailing and had expressed concern to the U.S.
“The Taiwan issue is the most important and sensitive issue in Sino-U.S. relations,” he told a daily news briefing.
The U.S. has no formal ties with Taiwan but is bound by law to help provide the island with the means to defend itself and is its main source of arms.
The Pentagon says Washington has sold Taipei more than $15 billion in weaponry since 2010.