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US Navy chief doesn’t rule out sending aircraft carrier through Taiwan Strait, despite China threats

Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. John M. Richardson delivers remarks during the CNOs' 23rd International Seapower Symposium (ISS) at the U.S. Naval War College, Sept. 19, 2018. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Luke McCall/U.S. Navy)
January 18, 2019

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson on Friday said the U.S. would not rule out sending an aircraft carrier through the Taiwan Strait, a move that would likely anger China and incite it to potentially take action, even though the Strait is considered internationals waters.

The U.S. has not sent an aircraft carrier through the Taiwan Strait in more than 10 years, although it has sent smaller ships through the waters in recent years.

“We don’t really see any kind of limitation on whatever type of ship could pass through those waters,” Richardson said while speaking in Japan on Friday, this after visiting China, as well.

“We see the Taiwan Strait as another (stretch of) international waters, so that’s why we do the transits,” he added, Reuters reported.

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The Taiwan Strait separates mainland China from the island of Taiwan, and it is a part of the South China Sea that also connects to the East China Sea. China views Taiwan as its own, even though the island nation is self-ruled.

Despite being international waters, China often claims sovereignty over the waters, as well as a string of several contested islands, both natural and manmade – by China, in these waters. Other nations that claim the contested islands include Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

The United States in the past has performed Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) in such waters, which often anger China, although China generally claims that its reactions are peaceful in nature.

One such instance last fall, for example, saw China send one of its destroyers to change the course of a U.S. Naval destroyer that was transiting the waters.

And just this month, after the U.S. performed a FONOP near islands China claims in the South China Sea, China announced it had deployed a “carrier killer anti-ship missile” to the same region.

“We have made this very clear that this was an excursion, a departure from the normal adherence to those rules and we would hope that behavior in the future would be much more consistent,” Richardson said Friday. “We should not see each other as a threatening presence in these waters.”

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Richardson’s comments come during a time of tension and trade talks between the United States and China. It was also announced this week that U.S. federal prosecutors are reportedly pursuing a criminal case against Chinese tech giant Huawei for allegedly stealing trade secrets from American companies, including T-Mobile.

Canada is also catching pressure from China, after China on Monday sentenced a Canadian man to death after he was accused of drug smuggling. Canada last month arrested Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer and daughter of the company’s founder, Ren Zhengfei, on charges of violating sanctions on Iran. The arrest was executed at the request of the U.S.

Following the arrest of Wanzhou, China has detained 13 Canadian nationals.

Huawei has long been suspected of facilitating surveillance or communication disruptions on behalf of the Chinese government. Huawei smartphones were banned from U.S. military bases this year over concerns of security threats.

Further, the Justice Department has been probing Huawei’s dealings with Iran since April, and the company is suspected of violating sanctions imposed on Iran for more than two years.

Huawei’s competitor, ZTE, was also found to be violating sanctions on Iran.

Consequently, ZTE components were banned from the U.S., which devastated the company and nearly caused it to dissolve into bankruptcy. Earlier last year, ZTE paid some $1.4 billion in fines to the U.S. and agreed to a management restructure in order to lift the ban in the U.S.

Huawei is preparing to roll out new 5G wireless technology, allowing greater connectivity to the internet through devices such as health monitors and autonomous vehicles, prompting greater concern over Huawei’s ability to access sensitive information.

The U.K., Australia, and New Zealand have pre-emptively banned Huawei on 5G networks.

In December, it was reported that President Donald Trump could be eying an executive order that would prohibit American companies from using restricted telecommunications equipment, possibly from Huawei and ZTE.