China protests transit of US destroyer through Taiwan Strait

BEIJING: China on Thursday (Apr 8) protested the passage of a US destroyer through the Taiwan Strait amid increased naval activity in the region. 

China tracked and monitored the USS John S McCain throughout its passage on Wednesday, Zhang Chunhui, spokesperson for the Chinese military’s eastern theater command said in a statement.

The US move sent the “wrong signal” to Taiwan’s government and “willfully disrupted the regional situation by endangering peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” he said. 

China threatens to invade Taiwan to assert its claim over the self-governing island democracy, which enjoys strong US support.

In a one-sentence statement, the US Navy said the McCain “conducted a routine Taiwan Strait transit Apr 7 (local time) through international waters in accordance with international law”. 

READ: Commentary: The broader dialogue the US-China relationship needs

The McCain’s transit follows China’s announcement on Monday that its aircraft carrier Liaoning and associated vessels were holding drills near Taiwan meant to help it “safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests,” terms often interpreted as being directed at Taiwan’s leadership that has refused to give in to Beijing’s demands that it recognise the island as part of Chinese territory.

The US Navy announced the carrier Theodore Roosevelt and its strike group reentered the South China Sea on Saturday to “conduct routine operations,” the second time the strike group has entered the strategic waterway this year.

READ: Commentary: US-China relations – age of engagement comes to a close

China claims the South China Sea almost in its entirety and strongly objects to foreign naval activity in the resource rich and heavily transited waters, especially the US practice of sailing naval vessels close to Chinese-held features in what it terms “freedom of navigation operations.”

While the Taiwan Strait lies in international waters, its transiting by US naval vessels is seen as a partly symbolic show that Washington will not permit Beijing’s forces to dominate the waterway.

Along with military exercises, China has been sending warplanes on practically a daily basis into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone to pressure the administration of President Tsai Ing-wen and advertise its threat of military action.

READ: Taiwan says it may shoot down Chinese drones in South China Sea

That prompted a statement from Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, who said that Taiwan would “fight a war if we need to fight a war, and if we need to defend ourselves to the very last day, then we will defend ourselves to the very last day”. 

Vast improvements in China’s military capabilities and its increasing activity around Taiwan have raised concerns in the US, which is legally bound to ensure Taiwan is capable of defending itself and to regard all threats to the island’s security as matters of “grave concern”.

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