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US warships pass through strategic Taiwan Strait amid tensions with China

A file photo of USS William P. Lawrence

The US military has once again sent warships through the Strait of Taiwan despite China’s repeated calls for Washington to refrain from such military moves — one of the several sources of tension in bilateral ties.

Two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, namely USS Stethem (DDG-63) and USS William P. Lawrence (DDG-110), sailed through the 180-km-wide Taiwan Strait, which separates the self-ruled island from mainland China, on Sunday.

“The ships’ transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Commander Clay Doss, a spokesman for the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet, said in a statement.

Doss further stated that there were no unsafe or unprofessional interactions with other countries’ vessels during the transit.

There has been no immediate comment from China, but it usually responds to such measures with anger. Beijing urged other countries last week to refrain from using free and open navigation as a pretext to infringe upon the rights of others.

China’s Navy chief Shen Jinlong said on Wednesday that freedom of navigation was a widely recognized concept that should not be misused, in what was interpreted as a clear warning to the United States, which routinely sails warships to and flies warplanes over the territories claimed by China but disputed by other regional countries.

Beijing sees Taiwan as a wayward province under the globally-recognized “One China” policy.

China has pursued Taiwan’s reunification ever since the island broke away from the mainland during a civil war in 1949. China claims full sovereignty over the island; and almost all world countries, including the US, recognize that sovereignty.

However, Washington — which has no formal diplomatic relations with Taipei by law — has extensive military ties with Taiwan, selling advanced military hardware to the island.

The US, under President Donald Trump, has been further enhancing relation with Taiwan. Since Trump took office in January 2017, Washington has opened a new de facto embassy in Taipei and passed a law to encourage senior US officials to travel to Taiwan to meet their counterparts and vice versa.

President Xi Jinxing warned in January that the use of force would remain an option for Beijing to bring Taiwan back under Chinese control.

Taiwan is one of a growing number of sticking points in the US-China relationship, which also include a trade war initiated by the US as well as Washington’s sanctions on Iran, which would affect Beijing as the main customer of Iranian crude.

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