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25 Jan, 2019 03:54

2 US warships sail through Taiwan Strait amid tensions with China

2 US warships sail through Taiwan Strait amid tensions with China

Undeterred by Chinese jet overflights and previous warnings, the US Navy has once again challenged the ‘One China’ policy by sending its vessels through the Taiwan Strait in what it called a routine freedom-of-navigation exercise.

After sailing in the vicinity of the Chinese-claimed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea earlier this month, USS McCampbell (DDG-85) reached another disputed waterway in the Pacific on Thursday. Conducting what the US Navy claimed to be a “routine” passage, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer was joined by Henry Kaiser-class oiler USNS Walter S. Diehl (T-AO-193) as they sailed across the 110-mile-wide Taiwan Strait.

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“The ships’ transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Lt. Cmdr. Tim Gorman told USNI News. “The US Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.”

Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense confirmed the passage of US warships, separately noting that mainland China’s air force was continuing its overflights in the region for the second day running. H6 bombers and KJ500 early warning and control planes were seen flying over the Bashi Channel on Thursday. A day earlier, the Chinese reportedly sent “various military aircraft,” including a Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jet and a Shaanxi Y-8 transport plane over the waterway separating the Philippines from Taiwan. Taipei responded by sending military aircraft and surveillance ships to the region.

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It was the first reported transit of US warships through the Taiwan Strait this year, and the fourth such passage since October, when trade conflict between the world's two largest economies reached new heights. While China has yet to issue a comment on the matter, in the past Beijing has expressed deep ‘concern’ over American freedom-of-navigation stunts in the Pacific. Beijing has also repeatedly urged Washington to respect the 'One China' policy, which considers Taiwan as an integral part of the mainland.

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“Deviating from the 'One China' principle will make the situation of cross (strait) relations tense and chaotic,” Chinese president Xi Jinping warned at the start of the year. “We do not promise to renounce the use of force and reserve the option to use all necessary measures.”

“If anyone wants to separate Taiwan from China, the Chinese military will safeguard the national unity at all costs so as to protect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” General Li Zuocheng, the head of China’s Joint Staff Department, reportedly told Admiral John Richardson, US Chief of Naval Operations, during his visit to the Asian country earlier this month.

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