Two U.S. warships entered transit in the Taiwan Strait, the U.S. Navy announced Sunday, the first time since the unprecedented Chinese maneuvers near the island.
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The US Navy said in a statement that the passage “demonstrates America’s commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”
Tensions in the Taiwan Strait have reached an all-time high following US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the self-governing island in early August.
In response, China carried out unprecedented land and sea military maneuvers, and Taiwan conducted its own exercises to simulate defense against a Chinese invasion.
Taiwan lives under the constant threat of invasion from Beijing, which considers the island part of its territory one day to recapture and, if necessary, by force.
Beijing has resisted any diplomatic move that might grant Taiwan legal recognition and has reacted with growing anger to visits by Western officials and politicians.
The US Seventh Fleet said the USS Antietam and USS Chancellorsville, two Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruisers, conducted ‘routine’ transits in waters where freedom of navigation and high maneuverability meet international standards.
He pointed out that the two ships were “located beyond the territory of any coastal state in the corridor of the Taiwan Strait” and added that the US military has the right to “operate where international law allows”.
In Washington, White House spokesman John Kirby said Sunday on the CNN channel that the move “sent a very clear message: The US Navy will travel, fly and operate in accordance with international law. Allow.” He noted that these latest maneuvers had been “planned for a long time”.
‘High Alert Level’
China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) said the US had made “a big hype” around the passage of ships through the strait.
“The PLA’s Eastern Theater Command monitors and warns US ships throughout their transit, and is aware of their every move,” said Shi Ye, spokesman for the Chinese military’s Eastern Command.
“(Eastern) theater troops are on high alert and stand ready (…) to counter any provocation,” he added.
For its part, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said in a brief statement that two US ships had crossed the Taiwan Strait from north to south.
“As they travel south through the Taiwan Strait, the military is monitoring our sea and airspace movements…and the situation is normal,” the same source said.
The Seventh Fleet is based in Japan and is an essential part of Washington’s naval presence in the Pacific.
On August 12, Washington announced its intention to strengthen its trade ties with Taiwan and establish new air and sea routes across the strait in response to China’s “provocative” actions.
During one of the most important military maneuvers in its history around Taiwan, the Chinese military stationed warships, missiles and fighter jets for five days, simulating a siege of the island.
On August 16, Seventh Fleet Vice Admiral Carl Thomas called Beijing’s firing of ballistic missiles at the island during its maneuvers “irresponsible” and said the displays grazed the tracks.