US-China relations: US warship sails through Taiwan Strait under scrutiny from Beijing

  • Transit of guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin part of America’s ‘commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific’, US Pacific Fleet says
  • People’s Liberation Army, Taiwan send destroyer, frigate to monitor warship’s movements
Lawrence Chung

Lawrence Chung SCMP

An MH-60R helicopter takes off from the flight deck of the USS Mustin during routine operations. Photo: US Navy

An MH-60R helicopter takes off from the flight deck of the USS Mustin during routine operations. Photo: US NavyThe United States sent a warship through the Taiwan Strait on Tuesday in what it said was a demonstration of its “commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific”, as military tensions between Washington, Beijing and Taipei in the region continue to simmer.

According to the US Pacific Fleet, the US Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin conducted a routine transit through the waterway that separates Taiwan from the Chinese mainland.

“The US 7th Fleet [which is headquartered in Japan] conducts forward-deployed naval operations in support of US national interests in the Indo-Pacific area of operations,” it said in a statement on Wednesday morning.

“As the US Navy’s largest numbered fleet, 7th Fleet interacts with 35 other maritime nations to build partnerships that foster maritime security, promote stability and prevent conflict.”

US forces would continue to “fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows”, it said.

The USS Mustin conducted a routine transit through the Taiwan Strait on Tuesday. Photo: US Navy

The USS Mustin conducted a routine transit through the Taiwan Strait on Tuesday. Photo: US Navy

Taipei confirmed the warship’s passage, but did not give further details.

“The military is aware of and closely monitors all activities in the sea and air near the Taiwan Strait through the combined intelligence it has gathered,” the defence ministry said.SCMP GLOBAL IMPACT NEWSLETTERUncover the most important stories from China that affect the worldSIGN UPBy registering, you agree to our T&C and Privacy Policy

Local news reports said on Wednesday that the Mustin sailed close to the Taipei-governed Matsu Islands, which lie just off mainland China’s east coast and once had Taiwanese military outposts.

Both Taipei and Beijing sent warships to monitor the transit, United Daily News reported.The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) sent a guided missile destroyer, and Taiwan a guided-missile frigate, it said.

The PLA’s Eastern Theatre Command said on Wednesday that the military was on “high alert” to protect China’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, and monitor US activity.

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The Mustin, which is part of the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier strike group, is the seventh American warship to sail through the Taiwan Strait this year, according to news reports.After passing through the strait it rejoined its strike group near the Pratas Islands in the South China Sea.https://www.youtube.com/embed/ojRVHd1mPLA

Yen Chen-shen, an international relations professor at National Chengchi University in Taipei, said the ship’s movements were meant as a clear signal to Beijing.

“The passage represents the US’ will to push through its freedom of navigation operations in international waters to counter the mainland’s military expansion in the South China Sea and the Indo-Pacific region,” he said.

“By regularly sending warships to transit the Taiwan Strait, the US also wants to establish a new normal.”

The US Pacific Fleet says it will continue to “fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows”. Photo: US Navy

The US Pacific Fleet says it will continue to “fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows”. Photo: US Navy

Lu Shih-li, a former instructor at Taiwan’s Naval Academy in Kaohsiung, said the Mustin’s transit was possibly intended to disrupt the PLA’s plans to stage war games at the northern and southern ends of the Taiwan Strait.

“It demonstrates the US’s efforts to counter the PLA’s attempts to expand its military influence in the region,” he said.

The US has maintained a strong presence in the South China Sea over the past six months. The last US warship to pass through the Taiwan Strait was the USS Russell destroyer, which transited in June.

Taiwan has also stepped up its military manoeuvring in the region. On Tuesday, its new combined arms battalions took part in an exercise in the north of the island, simulating an amphibious landing by hostile forces.

Beijing claims Taiwan as part of its sovereign territory and has not rejected the use of force to reunify it with the mainland.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: US warship sails through Taiwan Strait under scrutinyCONVERSATIONS (32)

Lawrence Chung

Lawrence Chung

Lawrence Chung covers major news in Taiwan, ranging from presidential and parliament elections to killer earthquakes and typhoons. Most of his reports focus on Taiwan’s relations with China, specifically on the impact and possible developments of cross-strait relations under the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party and mainland-friendly Kuomintang governments. Before starting work at the South China Morning Post in 2006, he wrote for Reuters and AFP for more than 12 years.

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