The guided-missile destroyer USS Milius, seen here in the South China Sea on April 14, 2023, steamed through the Taiwan Strait two days later.

The guided-missile destroyer USS Milius, seen here in the South China Sea on April 14, 2023, steamed through the Taiwan Strait two days later. (Greg Johnson/U.S. Navy)

A Navy guided-missile destroyer steamed through the Taiwan Strait on Sunday, less than a week after Chinese forces concluded a three-day exercise in the area to protest meetings between Taiwan’s president and U.S. politicians.

Over the course of 16 hours, the USS Milius steamed northeast through the 110-mile-wide channel that separates mainland China from Taiwan, U.S. 7th Fleet spokeswoman Lt. Kristina Wiedemann told Stars and Stripes by email Monday.

She said the destroyer’s trip through the area was unrelated to Chinese military exercises there last week.

“This was a routine transit of the Taiwan Strait from the South China Sea to the East China Sea in accordance with international law,” she said. “U.S. Navy ships and aircraft routinely use the Taiwan Strait to transit between the two and have done so for many years.”

Beijing on April 7 launched a series of exercises in the strait and elsewhere around Taiwan to protest Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s visit with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on April 6 and U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul on April 8.

Dubbed Joint Sword, the exercise saw scores of aircraft and dozens of ships operating in the region on a daily basis in what China’s Defense Ministry described as a “serious warning against the ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist forces colluding with external forces and provocations.”

Beijing considers self-governing Taiwan a breakaway province that must be reunited with the mainland, possibly by force.

The Navy regularly sends ships through the strait as a means of convenient navigation and as a message that it will “fly, sail and operate” anywhere that international law permits. China, in return, regularly criticizes the transits as antagonizing the status quo.

China’s Eastern Theater Command monitored “the entire process” of the Milius’ journey through the Taiwan Strait, according to a Monday post on the command’s official Weibo account. Chinese forces hailed the Milius during its transit, Wiedemann said, but all communications were “consistent with international norms and did not impact the operation.”

Sunday’s passage marks the Navy’s third there this year; a P-8A Poseidon reconnaissance and anti-submarine patrol aircraft made a flyover of the strait Feb. 27 and the Hawaii-based destroyer USS Chung-Hoon made the trip Jan. 5.

The Milius’ trip through the strait also comes less than a week after it passed by the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea during a freedom-of-navigation operation on April 10, which coincided with the official conclusion of China’s drills.

The Spratlys, approximately 960 miles from Taiwan, are a group of about 100 islands between Vietnam and the Philippines that are claimed in full by China, Vietnam and Taiwan; portions of the chain are also claimed by Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.

During that operation, the Milius steamed near Mischief Reef, one of several islands that China has modified and built military infrastructure on over the past decade, to protest “excessive maritime claims” and “unlawful restrictions” such as permission or advanced notice for “innocent passage” through territorial waters.

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Alex Wilson covers the U.S. Navy and other services from Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. Originally from Knoxville, Tenn., he holds a journalism degree from the University of North Florida. He previously covered crime and the military in Key West, Fla., and business in Jacksonville, Fla.

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