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Navy sends a pair of guided-missile destroyers through Taiwan Strait

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem (DDG 63) steams during a three-carrier strike force photo exercise in the Western Pacific. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kelsey J. Hockenberger/U.S. Navy)

Two Navy destroyers cruised through the Taiwan Strait on Sunday and Monday, the latest in a series of transits that challenge China’s claims of sovereignty over the strategic waterway.

The USS Stethem and USS William P. Lawrence “conducted a routine Taiwan Strait transit on April 28-29 (local time), in accordance with international law,” 7th Fleet spokesman Lt. Joe Keiley said in an email Monday.

The transit shows the United States’ commitment to maintaining free and open navigation in the Indo-Pacific region, he said.

“The U.S. Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows,” he added.

The U.S. has sent vessels through the 112-mile-wide strait, which separates Taiwan and China, almost once a month since October.

In March, the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Bertholf transited the strait alongside the destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur, a Navy destroyer.

The Stethem and cargo ship USNS Cesar Chavez passed through in February. The USS McCampbell and fleet replenishment oiler USNS Walter S. Diehl sailed there in January. The USS Stockdale and replenishment oiler USNS Pecos made the pass in November, preceded by the Curtis Wilbur and USS Antietam in October.

Prior to October, there had been only one Taiwan Strait transit by U.S. naval vessels — the USS Mustin and USS Benfold in July — reported in more than a year.

China regards Taiwan as a renegade province that must, at some point, be reunified with the mainland. The U.S. normalized diplomatic ties with Beijing in 1979 and has agreed that China has sovereignty over Taiwan under the “One China” policy.

But the U.S. has continued informal support for the island under the United States Taiwan Relations Act, and sells arms and provides military training to the country.

In late March, Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported that two Chinese air force J-11 jets “violated the long-held tacit agreement by crossing the median line of the Taiwan Strait.”

China’s Global Times later stated in an article that Beijing’s flight operations in the strait “could become routine and the ‘middle line’ could become history” if the U.S. and Taiwan “upgrade their provocative actions” against China.


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