US Navy sails warships through Taiwan Strait
Posted January 24, 2019 4:22 a.m. EST
CNN — The US Navy sailed two ships through the Taiwan Strait on Thursday, according to the US Pacific Fleet, which oversees operations in the area.
The guided missile destroyer USS McCampbell and the USNS Walter S. Diehl "conducted a routine Taiwan Strait Transit" that was "in accordance with international law," US Pacific Fleet spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Tim Gorman told CNN.
"The ships' transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. The US Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows," Gorman added.
The US Navy also sailed two ships through the Strait in October and November, operations that were shadowed by multiple Chinese warships.
The US had conducted a similar operation in July. Prior to that, the transits occurred only about once a year.
The approximately 110-mile-wide strait, which separates the People's Republic of China and Taiwan, is seen as a potential geopolitical flashpoint should Beijing ever seek to take the island of Taiwan by force.
Beijing continues to lay claim to Taiwan, a self-governed, democratic island that China views as a breakaway province. While the strait constitutes international waters, China is thought to be very sensitive about the presence of US military forces there.
The US Defense Intelligence Agency issued a report earlier this month saying that China has undertaken a series of ambitious military reforms and acquired new technology, modernization steps the report said were driven primarily by "Beijing's longstanding interest to eventually compel Taiwan's reunification with the mainland and deter any attempt by Taiwan to declare independence."
"Beijing's anticipation that foreign forces would intervene in a Taiwan scenario led the (People's Liberation Army) to develop a range of systems to deter and deny foreign regional force projection," the report added.
America's top naval officer, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson, met with his Chinese counterparts earlier this month, with Chinese military officers raising the issue of Taiwan, according to a report on the Chinese military's English-language website.
"If someone tries to split Taiwan from China, the Chinese military will do whatever it takes to safeguard national reunification, national sovereignty and territorial integrity," Gen. Li Zuocheng, a member of China's Central Military Commission, reportedly told Richardson.
Following his China visit, his second as chief of naval operations, Richardson said the US Navy would continue to send warships wherever international law allows.
"We see the Taiwan Straits as another (set of) international waters, and so that's why we do the transits through the straits, is again just exercising the right to pass through those waters in accordance with international law," Richardson said last Friday while speaking in Tokyo.
Earlier this month, China's President Xi Jinping called on Taiwan to reject independence and embrace "peaceful reunification" with China in a conciliatory speech that nevertheless took a hard line on the island's political sovereignty and freedoms.
The Chinese leader added that "we make no promise to renounce the use of force. We reserve the option for all the necessary means."
In response to Xi's speech, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said the island will "never accept" a "one country, two systems" arrangement with China.
Richardson said he had told his Chinese counterparts that US policy toward Taiwan had not changed and the US remains "opposed to any kind of unilateral action from either side of the strait that would change that status quo."