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US warships sail through Taiwan Strait for third month in a row

The guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur departs Yokosuka Naval Base for the annual Black Ship Festival in Shimoda, Japan, Thursday, May 17, 2018. (GARRETT ZOPFI/U.S. NAVY)

The Navy has sailed a guided-missile destroyer between mainland China and Taiwan for the third month in a row, contentious passages meant to ensure vessels can freely navigate there.

The USS Curtis Wilbur and U.S. Coast Guard cutter Bertholf passed through the Taiwan Strait overnight Sunday into Monday “in accordance with international law,” said 7th Fleet spokesman Lt. Joe Keiley.

China protests U.S. warships sailing through the approximately 100-mile-wide strait without first seeking its permission; however, the U.S. insists the strait is an international waterway.

This week’s passage was the fifth time in six months that U.S. warships have made the journey. The USS Stethem and cargo ship USNS Cesar Chavez passed through last month. The USS McCampbell and fleet replenishment oiler USNS Walter S. Diehl sailed there in January. The USS Stockdale and replenishment oiler USNS Pecos passed through in November, and the USS Curtis Wilbur and USS Antietam sailed the strait in October.

Before October, there had been only one Taiwan Strait transit reported in more than a year.

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“The ships’ transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Keiley said. “The U.S. will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.”

Beijing’s reunification with Taiwan “has served as the primary driver for China’s military modernization,” concluded a January Defense Intelligence Agency report on China’s military power.

The report detailed the Chinese military’s technological advances and said the country’s “anticipation that foreign forces would intervene in a Taiwan scenario led the [Chinese military] to develop a range of systems to deter and deny foreign regional force projection.”

In January, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson told Chinese Gen. Li Zuocheng, chief of the military’s Joint Staff Department, that the U.S. is committed to the One China policy acknowledging Taiwan is part of China. However, Beijing has expressed skepticism.

“If anyone wants to separate Taiwan from China, the Chinese military will safeguard the national unity at all costs, so as to protect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Li said during their meeting, according to the South China Morning Post.

The cutter Bertholf, which arrived March 3 at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan, recently wrapped up a mission enforcing United Nations sanctions against North Korea.

The U.N. Security Council has imposed a number of economic sanctions on the North in response to its developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

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The Coast Guard helps enforce those sanctions by keeping a lookout for prohibited ship-to-ship transfers of fuel, such as coal, and goods.

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© 2019 the Stars and Stripes

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.