United States warships sail through Taiwan Strait as China tensions surge

Monday was the second time in the space of three months that American warships had conducted so-called "freedom of navigation" exercises in the Taiwan Strait, a 180-kilometre wide stretch of water separating the Chinese mainland and the self-ruled democratic island.

The pair of US Navy warships conducted "a routine Taiwan Strait transit in accordance with worldwide law", Pacific Fleet spokesperson Lt. j.g.

The U.S. Navy conducted a similar mission in the strait's worldwide waters in July, which had been the first such voyage in about a year. Nate Christensen, a spokesman for the Hawaii-based U.S. Pacific Fleet, told CNN.

Taiwan late on Monday requested that China refrain from interfering in its elections, saying that Beijing should respect and learn from its democracy.

Mattis added that "the USA will fly, sail, and operate wherever global law allows, and we encourage all nations to confidently exercise their right to do the same".

In July, the Navy sent the 7th Fleet destroyers USS Mustin and USS Benfold into the straits for what Pacific Fleet officials described as a "routine transit". The Chinese military has sailed its aircraft carrier and accompanying escort ships through the Taiwan Strait and conducted "encirclement" exercises involving fighters, bombers and other military assets throughout the year.

Taiwan's defence ministry had said in an earlier statement that the military was "closely monitoring the U.S. warships during their passage". Taiwan receives support and defense funding from the United States in line with a 1979 bilateral agreement.

Military experts say the balance of power between Taiwan and China has shifted decisively in China's favour in recent years, and China could easily overwhelm the island unless US forces came quickly to Taiwan's aid. China has also constructed artificial islands atop submerged reefs in the South China Sea and placed weapons and aircraft on them.

China views Taiwan as a wayward province and has been ramping up pressure to assert its sovereignty over the island. Chinese ships have used force and coercion to prevent access to islands in the region claimed by smaller nations, USA officials have repeatedly said.

  • Joey Payne