Photo Credit: Markus Castaneda
The Taiwan Strait has already been crossed by two US Navy warships deployed by the government. However, the US government’s action is the first since tensions between China and the US rose following House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan more than a month ago.
The US 7th Fleet based in Japan said, “[The USS Antietam and USS Chancellorsville were making the voyage through waters where high seas freedoms of navigation and overflight apply in accordance with international law.”
According to National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby, the two warships’ deployment sends a signal to all parties that the US military will go to places as long as international law permits it.
“These ships (are transiting) through a corridor in the Strait that is beyond the territorial sea of any coastal state. The ships’ transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the United States’ commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. The United States military flies, sails, and operates anywhere international law allows,” the 7th Fleet added.
The Chinese military has stated that it is closely watching the ships and is prepared to respond to any provocations from the vessels through the Eastern Theater Command.
The 110-mile-long Strait, through which the Navy ships are sailing, connects the island of Taiwan with the mainland of China. Notably, China has long asserted that Taiwan is a part of its territory. Thus, the Strait effectively forms a part of China’s territorial waters.
Even though this is the case, the US claimed that the straight is covered by international law, which stipulates that territorial waters begin 12 nautical miles from a nation’s coastline. Therefore, the Strait does not belong to China’s territorial waters.
Beijing does not like the development
Colonel Shi Yi, the spokesperson of the Eastern Theater Command’s People’s Liberation Army, said, “The frequent provocations and showing-off by the US fully demonstrate that the US is the destroyer of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and the creator of security risks in the Taiwan Strait.”
China has increased its military presence and activities closest to Taiwan’s territorial waters ever since Pelosi entered Taiwan. Following the House Speaker’s visit to the island nation, a number of Chinese warplanes and ships flew over the Taiwan Strait, making China’s displeasure with US-Taiwan relations evident with the military actions.
The Eastern Command added that it has started “joint combat-readiness security patrols and combat training exercises involving troops of multiple services and arms in the waters and airspace [around Taiwan].”
The declaration was made in response to the second round of US officials’ visits to Taiwan, during which US Senator Marsha Blackburn voiced her support for the country and said, “I will not be bullied by Communist China into turning my back on the island.”
“I will never kowtow to the Chinese Communist Party. I will continue to stand with the (Taiwanese) and their right to freedom and democracy. Xi Jinping doesn’t scare me,” the senator added.
China is overreacting
China’s increased pressure on Taiwan is an overreaction, according to Nicholas Burns, the US ambassador to China.
“We do not believe there should be a crisis in US-China relations over the visit — the peaceful visit — of the speaker of the House of Representatives to Taiwan … it was a manufactured crisis by the government in Beijing,” he explained.
“[It is now] incumbent upon the government here in Beijing to convince the rest of the world that it will act peacefully in the future,” added Burns.
China, meanwhile, urges the US to stop its military transits because they would only heighten tension between the parties. The Chinese ambassador to Washington, Qin Gang, warned that if tensions rose further, China would be forced to act. However, US officials stated that as long as it falls within the ambit of international law, it will independently make these decisions.
“We’ll continue to fly, sail, and operate where international law allows, consistent with our longstanding commitment to freedom of navigation, and that includes conducting standard air and maritime transits through the Taiwan Strait in the next few weeks,” said Kurt Campbell, the US president’s coordinator of the Indo-Pacific.