Two US Navy warships have entered the Taiwan Strait, the first US naval transit in the waterway since tensions between the US and China erupted earlier this month over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island.
The guided-missile cruisers USS Antietam and USS Chancellorsville set sail on Sunday “through waters where high seas freedoms of navigation and overflight apply in accordance with international law,” according to a statement from the US 7th Fleet in Japan.
The transit was described as “ongoing,” with “no interference from foreign military forces so far.”
“These ships (are transiting) through a strait corridor that is beyond any coastal state’s territorial sea.” The passage of the ships through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. The US military “flies, sails, and operates anywhere international law permits,” it stated.
According to John Kirby, a National Security Council spokesperson, the two US Navy warships transiting the Taiwan Strait sent a “very clear” and “very consistent” message that “the United States military will sail, fly, and operate wherever international law permits us to do so.”
“This has been planned for a long time,” Kirby added.
The Chinese military’s Eastern Theater Command said it was keeping a close eye on the two ships and was “ready to thwart any provocation.” The guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam. – US Navy
The Taiwan Strait is a 110-mile (180-kilometer) stretch of water that separates Taiwan, a democratic self-governing island, from mainland China.
Despite the fact that China’s ruling Communist Party has never controlled Taiwan, Beijing claims sovereignty over the island and considers the strait to be part of its “internal waters.”
The US Navy, on the other hand, claims that the majority of the strait is in international waters.
According to international law, territorial waters extend 12 nautical miles (22.2 kilometers) from a country’s coastline, and the Navy regularly sends warships through the strait in what it calls freedom of navigation operations, including recent voyages by the guided missile destroyers USS Benfold and USS Port Royal.
The guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville of the Ticonderoga class. – United States Navy
Beijing reacted angrily to those transits. “The US’s frequent provocations and show-off fully demonstrate that the US is the destroyer of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, as well as the creator of security risks in the Taiwan Strait,” Col. Shi Yi, spokesman for the People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theater Command, said following the Benfold’s transit on July 19.
Following Pelosi’s visit to the island earlier this month, Beijing has increased military maneuvers in the strait – and in the skies above it.
The PLA announced four days of military exercises in six zones encircling the island within minutes of Pelosi’s arrival on August 2.
The maneuvers included the launch of ballistic missiles into waters near Taiwan, the passage of numerous Chinese warships through the Taiwan Strait, and the breaching of the median line – the midway point between mainland China and Taiwan that Beijing claims it does not recognize but has largely respected.
According to Taiwan’s Defense Ministry, PLA warplanes have continued to cross the median line on a daily basis, usually in double-digit numbers, since those exercises officially ended. Between August 8 and August 22, the last of four days of drills announced the night Pelosi arrived in Taiwan, between five and 21 PLA aircraft crossed the median line each day.
According to Taiwan’s Defense Ministry, Chinese warplanes crossed the median line only once in July, with an unspecified number of jets.
Furthermore, Taiwan reports that between five and fourteen PLA warships have been spotted in the waters surrounding Taiwan.
The PLA’s exercises have been ongoing this week, as part of a busy season for Chinese drills.
China’s Eastern Theater Command announced on Friday that it had carried out “joint combat-readiness security patrols and combat training exercises involving troops from multiple services and arms in the waters and airspace” around Taiwan.
The US ambassador to China, Nicholas Burns, told CNN last week that Beijing’s reaction to Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan was “an overreaction.”