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China makes ‘no promise’ on Taiwan force as Navy cruiser sails through strait

The U.S. Navy guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam, foreground, shown here on Oct. 9, 2018, sailed through the Taiwan Strait on Wednesday and Thursday, July 24-25, 2019.

WILLIAM MCCANN/U.S. NAVY

By CAITLIN DOORNBOS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 25, 2019

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The Navy has sent yet another ship through the Taiwan Strait in what so far this year is an almost monthly event, according to Bloomberg News.

The guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam on Wednesday and Thursday sailed through the 110-mile-wide strait that separates mainland China from the island, which Beijing regards as a breakaway province. The U.S. considers Taiwan’s status unsettled, but adheres to the “One China” policy, acknowledging that China asserts sovereignty over Taiwan.

Seventh Fleet officials did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.

China regularly protests Taiwan Strait transits and asserts foreign vessels must first ask permission before sailing through, but international law considers the strait an open waterway.

Seventh Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Clay Doss said in a statement the strait transit “demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” according to the Bloomberg report Thursday.

“The U.S. Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows,” he said, according to Bloomberg. The statement is the standard response to post-transit requests for comment.

Also Wednesday, prior to the Antietam’s transit, Beijing in a white paper on national defense complained of “the U.S. illegal entry into China’s territorial waters and maritime and air spaces near relevant islands and reefs, and wide-range and frequent close-in reconnaissance.”

The white paper, published by China’s State Council Information Office, referred to U.S. passage through waters claimed by China as “wrong practices and provocative activities.” Navy vessels on freedom-of-navigation operations regularly pass close to island chains claimed by China in the South China Sea.

The U.S. “has provoked and intensified competition among major countries, significantly increased its defense expenditure, pushed for additional capacity in nuclear, outer space, cyber and missile defense, and undermined global strategic stability,” according to the white paper.

It also criticized the U.S. for approving a $2.2 billion arms deal for Taiwan early this month.

In the white paper, China said it would “make no promise to renounce the use of force” against those who try separating Taiwan from the Chinese mainland. Beijing considers reunification a top national priority.

“This is by no means targeted at our compatriots in Taiwan, but at the interference of external forces and the very small number of ‘Taiwan independence’ separatists and their activities,” the white paper states.

A U.S. warship has been through the Taiwan Strait eight times since July 2018. Before that, a year had passed since the last U.S. warship had made the journey.

Western navies have transited the strait every month so far this year. The U.S. sent a pair of ships through the strait every month from January to May. Canada sent its HMCS Regina and naval supply ship Asterix in June. The Antietam’s voyage this week was the first solo Taiwan Strait passage for a U.S. ship this year.

The cutter Bertholf, accompanied in March by the guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur, became the first U.S. Coast Guard vessel to make the trip. The French frigate Vendemiaire also passed through the strait in early April, shadowed by the Chinese military, according to an April 25 report by the Reuters news agency.

doornbos.caitlin@stripes.com
Twitter: @CaitlinDoornbos

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