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Two US Navy ships pass through Taiwan Strait, defying China

The US Navy’s guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur participates in a close quarters maneuvering exercise on February 28, 2018 in the Philippine Sea. (AFP photo)

Two US Navy warships have passed through the Taiwan Strait in the third such operation this year, as the US military increases the frequency of transits through the strategic waterway despite opposition from China.

“The ships’ transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” US Pacific Fleet said in a statement. “The US Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.”

It said the passage was carried out by Stockdale destroyer and Pecos, a replenishment vessel.

The US passage risks increasing already high tensions with China but will likely be viewed in self-ruled Taiwan as a sign of support from US President Donald Trump’s government amid growing friction between Beijing and Taipei.

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said it was a normal transit through international waters in the Taiwan Strait and that Taiwanese forces had monitored the passage of the ships.

There was no immediate reaction from China.

The US Navy conducted a similar mission in the strait’s international waters in July and October.

The US recognizes Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan, but it has long courted Taipei in an attempt to counter China and is the island’s main source of arms. The US Defense Department says Washington has sold Taiwan more than $15 billion in weaponry since 2010.

China has been ramping up pressure to assert its sovereignty over the island, which it considers a breakaway province of “one China.” Beijing says Taipei has no right to formal diplomatic ties of its own with other countries.

Taiwan is only one of a growing number of flashpoints in the US-China relationship, which also include a trade war, US sanctions and China’s increasingly muscular military posture in the South China Sea.

A recent near-miss between a US Navy destroyer and a Chinese warship in the disputed South China Sea was only one of the signs pointing to an increasingly tense relationship between the two nations.

US officials say the administration of US President Donald Trump is moving deliberately to counter what it views as years of unchecked Chinese aggression, signaling a new and potentially much colder era in relations between Washington and Beijing.

The Trump administration is now taking aim at military, political and economic targets in Beijing, The Wall Street Journal reported in October, citing interviews with senior White House officials and others in government.

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