Destroyer makes Navy’s 10th trip through Taiwan Strait this year
By CAITLIN DOORNBOS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 19, 2020
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin steamed through the Taiwan Strait on Tuesday, the 10th such passage by the U.S. Navy this year, the most in a single year since 2016, according to the Navy.
The Mustin cruised southwest through the strait from the East China Sea to the South China Sea on a “routine transit,” according to a U.S. Pacific Fleet statement on Wednesday. The strait, about 110 miles wide, separates the island of Taiwan from China.
“The transit demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” according to the fleet statement. “U.S. 7th Fleet conducts forward-deployed naval operations in support of U.S. national interests in the Indo-Pacific area of operations.”
The number of Navy trips through the strait has escalated along with tensions between the U.S. and China in the South and East China seas.
The U.S. sent warships through the strait nine times last year and three times in 2018, according to figures provided earlier this year by Pacific Fleet spokeswoman Lt. j.g. Rachel McMarr. In 2016, the Navy made 12 transits through the strait, according to McMarr.
The U.S. this year has also held carrier drills, conducted bomber overflights and sent its ships cruising past disputed islands and reefs in the region.
China typically objects to the Navy’s presence and trips through the strait. It asserts sovereignty over those waters and over Taiwan, a self-governing island with its own elected government.
The U.S. regards the strait as international waters and acknowledges China’s claim to Taiwan under its “One China” policy but views the island’s status as unsettled. Taiwan split from mainland China in 1949.
Zhao Lijan, spokesman for China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, at a press briefing on Tuesday said: “There is only one China in the world and Taiwan is an inalienable part of China,” according to a translated transcript. He did not mention the transit.
On Friday, Lijan, in response to a question from Japan’s Kyodo News, said the Chinese military recently held “consecutive, realistic drills in the Taiwan Straits and its northern and southern ends,” without giving a specific date.
He said that “a certain major country” is sending “seriously wrong signals to ‘Taiwan independence’ forces” that “severely threatened peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits.”
U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar visited Taiwan one week ago, the highest-ranking U.S. official to do so since 1979. He used the visit to criticize China’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak.