2 US warships pass through Taiwan Strait as ‘freedom of navigation’ feud with China escalates

2 US warships pass through Taiwan Strait as ‘freedom of navigation’ feud with China escalates
Two US warships have reportedly passed through the Taiwan Strait, a move that will likely be viewed by Beijing as yet another escalation amid Washington’s ongoing operation to impose freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

The USS Antietam, a guided missile cruiser, and the USS Curtis Wilbur, a guided missile destroyer, traveled through the strait Monday, sailing from south to north, the US Navy said, confirming earlier reports from Taiwan’s Defense Ministry.

The ships’ passage through the strait demonstrates “the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a spokesman for US Pacific Fleet, told CNN.

The last time US naval vessels passed through the strait was in July.

Last week it was reported that US officials were mulling an operation that would send warships through the waterway, as part of its ongoing efforts to impose free navigation in the South China Sea.

The move will likely anger Beijing, which has a territorial claim on Taiwan. US President Donald Trump has previously vowed to honor Beijing’s One China policy, but his actions have left Beijing questioning the sincerity of his pledge.

In late 2016, President-elect Trump enraged Beijing after holding a brief telephone conversation with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, who had reportedly called Trump to congratulate him on his presidential victory – the first direct communication between the US and Taiwanese leaders since 1979. During their conversation, Tsai is said to have urged Trump to boost cooperation between Washington and Taipei.

READ MORE: Beijing slams US military ‘provocations’ after B-52 bombers fly over South & East China Seas

Then in March, Trump signed the Taiwan Travel Act, which promotes closer political and economic ties between the US and Taiwan. The law was condemned by Beijing as a “severe” violation of the One China principle as well as an affront to joint US-China agreements.

The Taiwan Strait incident will likely exacerbate the increasingly high-stakes dispute over the South China Sea. Early this month, a Chinese warship came dangerously close to a US destroyer near disputed islands in the waterway.

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