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US warship sails through Taiwan Strait in message to China

The guided missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54) underway in the Pacific Ocean. (U.S. Navy photo by Airman Stephen W. Rowe/Released)
June 23, 2021

On Tuesday the U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54) transited the Taiwan Strait, which runs between the island nation of Taiwan and mainland China.

The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command announced the warship’s transit in a statement Tuesday night and said, “The ship’s transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. The United States military flies, sails, and operates anywhere international law allows.

USNI News reported this is the sixth time a U.S. warship has transited the Taiwan Strait since President Joe Biden took office in January.

The U.S. warship’s passage through the waterway prompted criticism from China’s military. On Wednesday, Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) Snr. Col. Zhang Chunhui, a spokesperson for the Chinese PLA’s Eastern Theater Command (ETC), said, “The US played the old trick to provoke troubles in the Taiwan Strait, deliberately disrupted and undermined the regional security situation, and jeopardized the peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, which fully manifested that the US is the biggest troublemaker for the regional security. China is firmly opposed to that.”

Zhang also said PLA air and naval forces will track the path of the U.S. warship as it passes near Taiwan and the Eastern Theater Command will stay on high alert “to respond to all threats and provocations.”

While Taiwan governs itself as an independent nation, China maintains a claim of sovereignty over the island.

Since 1979, the U.S. has recognized China’s sovereignty claim over Taiwan through the One-China policy. Despite officially recognizing China’s territorial claim, the U.S. has continued to interact with Taiwan through a policy of strategic ambiguity. China has increasingly warned the U.S. and Taiwan against interactions with one another.

Earlier this month, when three U.S. senators visited Taiwan during delivery of 750,000 U.S.-developed coronavirus vaccine doses, China condemned the action as “an abominable political provocation that challenges the one-China principle.”

As the U.S. senators visited Taiwan, PLA forces began practicing amphibious landings in China’s Fujian Province, across the waterway from Taiwan.

The U.S. has increasingly sailed warships through the Taiwan Strait in recent years. The Washington Times reported that since 2017 at least 20 Navy warships have conducted passages through the Strait.

Wei Dongxu, a Beijing-based military analyst, told China’s state-run Global Times that the pattern of U.S. warships transiting the Taiwan Strait is meant to create trouble between the Chinese mainland and the island of Taiwan and lend support to Taiwanese “secessionists.”

In April, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said China should avoid “aggressive actions” in the Taiwan Strait and said the U.S. is committed to ensuring the island’s self-defense. Blinken said, “It would be a serious mistake for anyone to try to change the existing status quo,” between China and Taiwan.