WASHINGTON — On Friday, Aug. 27, a US warship and a Coast Guard cutter sailed through the Taiwan Strait, the latest in what Washington refers to as routine operations through the sensitive waterway that separates Taiwan from China, which claims the self-ruled island.
The passage comes amid a spike in military tensions between Taiwan and China over the last two years, and it follows Chinese assault drills last week, in which warships and fighter jets exercised off the island’s southwest and southeast coasts.
The Kidd, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, and the Coast Guard cutter Munro transited “through international waters in accordance with international law,” according to a statement from the US Navy.
“The ships’ legal passage through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the United States’ commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. The US military “flies, sails, and operates anywhere international law permits,” it stated.
The US Navy has been conducting such operations every month or so, infuriating China, which regards Taiwan as its territory and has never renounced the use of force to seize control of the democratic island.
On August 28, China called the move “provocative,” saying the People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theater Command had organized troops to follow, monitor, and guard the course of the US ships’ operations.
“We vehemently oppose and strongly condemn this,” Tan Kefei, a spokesperson for China’s defense ministry, said in a statement.
“Taiwan is an inextricably linked part of China. The Taiwan issue is strictly a Chinese domestic matter that can not be interfered with by outside sources. We urge the United States to recognize the situation, refrain from provocations, and adhere to the One China principle and the provisions of the three Sino-US joint communiques. ”
The United States, like most countries, has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, but it is the island’s most important international backer and a major supplier of arms.
Following China’s passage of a law allowing its coast guard to fire on foreign vessels, Taiwan and the United States signed an agreement in March to establish a Coast Guard Working Group to coordinate policy.
It was not the first time a US Coast Guard cutter sailed through the Taiwan Strait on Friday.
However, it served as a reminder that the US is now keeping vessels in the region and “engaging in more joint training and law enforcement diplomacy to help strengthen partner nation capacity vis-à-vis Chinese encroachments,” according to Greg Poling, a maritime security expert at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies.
China’s state-controlled media has exploited the United States’ hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan in recent weeks to portray the United States’ support for Taiwan and regional allies as erratic.
However, the administration of US President Joe Biden has been quick to dismiss any comparison between Afghanistan and the US commitment to the Indo-Pacific.
During visits to Vietnam and Singapore this week, Vice President Kamala Harris accused China of “bullying and excessive maritime claims,” the latest in a series of visits by top US officials to the Indo-Pacific aimed at reaffirming the US commitment to the region.