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The guided-missile destroyer USS John Finn, part of the USS Theodore Roosevelt strike group, transits the Taiwan Strait, Wednesday, March 10, 2021.

The guided-missile destroyer USS John Finn, part of the USS Theodore Roosevelt strike group, transits the Taiwan Strait, Wednesday, March 10, 2021. (Jason Waite/U.S. Navy)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The Navy sent its third warship in a little over a month through the Taiwan Strait on Wednesday, just a day after Indo-Pacific Command’s leader warned legislators of China’s intent on taking over Taiwan.

The guided-missile destroyer USS John Finn steamed through the 110-mile-wide strait that separates China from Taiwan to “demonstrate the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” 7th Fleet spokesman Lt. Mark Langford said in a statement Thursday morning.

“The United States military will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows,” he said, employing a phrase often used by Navy officials following such operations.

Beijing considers reunification with Taiwan a top priority and regularly protests Taiwan Strait transits, claiming foreign vessels must first ask permission before passing through.

Guided-missile destroyers USS John S. McCain and USS Curtis Wilbur steamed through the strait without asking permission on Feb. 4 and Feb. 25, respectively.

After the Feb. 4 transit, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin called U.S. strait transits “provocations” that threaten China’s “national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” according to a translated transcript.

The transit Wednesday came a day after the head of Indo-Pacific Command, Adm. Philip Davidson, told the Senate Armed Services Committee he believed China could overtake Taiwan and force reunification “in the next six years.”

“I worry that [China is] accelerating their ambitions to supplant the United States and our leadership role in the rules-based international order,” Davidson said Tuesday. “They've long said that they want to do that by 2050. I’m worried about them moving that target closer.”

He further suggested the U.S. review its policy regarding relations with Taiwan. The U.S. for four decades has considered Taiwan’s status unsettled but acknowledges that China asserts sovereignty over Taiwan with the “One China” policy.

“I would submit that we’ve got more than 40 years of the strategic ambiguity has helped keep Taiwan in its current status,” he said. “But you know, these things should be reconsidered routinely. I’d look forward to the conversation.”

Some lawmakers have called for closer relations with Taiwan. Late in 2020, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., introduced the Taiwan Relations Reinforcement Act to “update U.S. policy toward Taiwan to better reflect the realities on the ground,” Rubio’s office said in a statement Oct. 20.

In a press conference Thursday, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin “believes it’s in no one’s interest” for conflict to occur over Taiwan.

“There’s no reason for that to happen,” Kirby said. “We take our responsibilities to Taiwan seriously, as has administrations bipartisan and legislators bipartisan for many, many years.”

Still, Kirby said Austin is “treating China as the pacing challenge … and that means having the right operational concepts in place; making sure that we are properly resourced in the Indo-Pacific; and that we are developing the proper capabilities to make sure that we can meet that challenge from a military perspective.”

“Clearly China is behaving in ways that are not in keeping with an international rules-based order and as the secretary of state has said, they seek to not only challenge that order but to supplant it,” Kirby added.

The latest transit came the same day Austin on Twitter announced plans to tour the Indo-Pacific beginning Saturday. He will visit Indo-Pacific Command headquarters in Hawaii before making stops in Japan, South Korea and India.

“I’ll meet with my counterparts and other officials to discuss the importance of our alliances and partnerships, and together we'll reinforce the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” Austin said in his tweet.

It will be his first overseas trip since taking over as defense secretary in January with the Biden administration. In another tweet on Wednesday, Austin said the Indo-Pacific remains “a priority theater” for the department.

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Caitlin Doornbos covers the Pentagon for Stars and Stripes after covering the Navy’s 7th Fleet as Stripes’ Indo-Pacific correspondent at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. Previously, she worked as a crime reporter in Lawrence, Kan., and Orlando, Fla., where she was part of the Orlando Sentinel team that placed as finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news. Caitlin has a Bachelor of Science in journalism from the University of Kansas and master’s degree in defense and strategic studies from the University of Texas at El Paso.
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