What you need to know
The US Navy has sent vessels through the Strait on four occasions since July 2018.
CNN reported on Thursday that the U.S. Navy sailed two warships through the contentious Taiwan Strait, while Taiwan’s defense ministry said China flew multiple military aircraft close to the island’s southern tip for a training exercise on the same day.
The guided missile destroyer USS McCampbell and USNS Walter S. Diehl sailed through the Strait in what U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Tim Gorman told CNN was a “routine Taiwan Strait transit” that was “in accordance with international law.”
Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense confirmed the move later on Thursday, according to CNA. The defense ministry offered no further comment aside from saying Taiwan’s military is in control of the situation.
The U.S. Navy sailed vessels through the Taiwan Strait last July before sending surface combatants through the Strait in October and November. Beijing responded to the latter two passages by sending multiple Chinese warships into the area.
Prior to this, U.S. vessels generally passed through the Strait once a year, according to CNN.
“The ships’ transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Gorman told CNN, using a term for the region now in vogue among U.S. officials. “The U.S. Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.”
Taiwan’s defense ministry said on Thursday that China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) flew multiple military jets, including H6 jet bombers and KJ500 Airborne Early Warning planes, through the Bashi Channel waterway between the north Philippines and Taiwan’s Orchid Island before returning to their base in south China.
The move came days after the ministry announced that the PLA had flown “various military aircraft,” including a Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jet and a Shaanxi Y-8 surveillance plane, through the same waterway. The ministry said Taiwan sent surveillance ships and aircraft to respond to the PLA planes before they returned to their base in south China.
The moves are regularly cast as routine military actions by defense officials from the respective countries. However, they come amid a recent spate of heightened tensions throughout the Taiwan Strait.
Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered a Jan. 2 speech in which he asserted that unification between China and Taiwan was “inevitable” and refused to rule out the use of force to assert Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan.
In response, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) rejected Xi’s proposal of “one country, two systems” for Taiwan, along with the so-called “1992 consensus” which Beijing and the KMT claim governs unofficial cross-Strait relations despite holding different definitions of the supposed agreement.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency released a report saying China had acquired new military technology and embarked on a series of large-scale military reforms. The report said this was due to “Beijing's longstanding interest to eventually compel Taiwan's reunification with the mainland and deter any attempt by Taiwan to declare independence.”
The report said that China does not yet have the military capacity to attack Taiwan but added that “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.”
Taiwan’s military launched into its first live-fire military drills of 2019 on Jan. 17, holding an anti-invasion drill which Major General Yen Kuo-hui (葉國輝) of Taiwan’s defense ministry said are aimed at “defending against a possible Chinese invasion.”
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