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US Navy warship sails through Taiwan Strait ahead of China trade talks

The U.S. Navy's guided missile cruiser USS Antietam (CG-54) is seen docked at a port in Manila on March 14, 2016. (Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

A U.S. naval ship sailed through the Taiwan Strait amid growing tensions with China over American military support for Taipei, one of the biggest sticking points between the two powers as they restart trade talks.

The guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam conducted a transit Wednesday and Thursday, U.S. 7th Fleet public affairs officer Clay Doss said in an email. The transit “demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. The U.S. Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows,” he said.

Taiwan’s defense ministry said in a statement that a U.S. warship had sailed through the strait from south to north and that the situation was under control.

The U.S. has increased passages through the 110-mile-wide strait separating Taiwan from the Chinese mainland over the last year. The latest comes a day after China accused the U.S. of undermining global stability in its first defense white paper since 2015.

The paper highlighted recent patrols by Chinese warships and warplanes around Taiwan, calling them a “stern warning” to independence advocates, a reference to President Tsai Ing-wen’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party. Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council denounced the report as an effort by China to use cross-strait tensions to expand its armed forces.

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China’s foreign and defense ministries did not immediately reply to faxed requests Thursday for comment on the transit.

The U.S. has approved billions of dollars in arms sales and publicizes naval transits through the strait, continuing military support for Taiwan despite cutting off official diplomatic ties with Taipei in favor of Beijing 40 years ago.

The democratically run island, which China considers a wayward province, is reemerging as a potential flash point in the trade war between President Donald Trump and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping as negotiations restart. After the U.S. approved a $2 billion weapons sale to Taiwan earlier this month, China hinted at the possibility of sanctions against American companies involved in the sale, warning that Washington was “playing with fire.”

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are set to travel to China on Monday for the first high-level, face-to-face talks between the two sides since discussions faltered in May.

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(With assistance from Brendan Scott, Dandan Li and Miaojung Lin.)

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© 2019 Bloomberg News

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.