Two US warships have sailed through the narrow Taiwan Strait, just days ahead of Donald Trump’s meeting with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Argentina to discuss strained trade relations.
Guided-missile destroyer USS Stockdale (DDG 106) and the replenishment oiler USNS Pecos (T-OA-197) passed through the disputed waterway on Wednesday to show Washington’s commitment to a “free and open” Indo-Pacific. “The US Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows,” Lieutenant Rachel McMarr, a spokeswoman for the US Pacific Fleet, said in a statement.
According to Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense, the American ships completed their “routine” passage late Wednesday night, after entering the Taiwan Strait from the northeastern direction early on Wednesday morning.
All interactions between the People’s Liberation Army and the US navies were “safe and professional,” an anonymous US official told AFP. Nevertheless, Taiwan’s military noted that during the passage, it had full “ability to maintain the security of the seas and airspace to ensure regional peace and stability.”
It was the third reported transit of US warships through Taiwan’s Strait this year. While China has yet to issue a comment on the matter, in the past Beijing has expressed deep concern over American freedom of navigation ‘stunts’ and demanded that Washington abide by the ‘One China’ principle, which sees Taiwan as an integral part of the mainland.
“The Taiwan issue concerns the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China. It is the most important and sensitive issue amid China-US relations,” Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying noted last month, after a similar incident in the strait.
The Taiwan Strait incidents will likely exacerbate the increasingly high-stakes dispute over the South China Sea, where Beijing believes the US has been abusing its power. The Pacific Fleet’s passage also comes just two days ahead of a crucial meeting between President Trump and Xi Jinping, which many hope would help ease trade tensions between the US and China. The high-stakes meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Argentina is set to focus on a number of issues including alleged Chinese theft of intellectual property and tariff barriers.