On December 31st, two US warships sailed through the Taiwan Strait in the second mission of the type in December alone.
The US Navy said the guided-missile destroyers USS John S McCain and USS Curtis Wilbur had “conducted a routine Taiwan Strait transit December 31 in accordance with international law”.
“The ships’ transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. The United States military will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows.”
It is the 13th sailing through the strait by the US Navy this year.
China’s Defense Ministry condemned the trip as “provocation” and “a show of force”, adding Chinese ships and aircraft trailed the US vessels.
The passage of the ships sent the wrong message to supporters of Taiwan independence and are a serious threat to peace and stability, it added.
“The Chinese People’s Liberation Army maintains a high level of alert at all times, responds to all threats and provocations at all times and resolutely defends national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the ministry said.
Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said the ships had sailed in a northerly direction through the strait on what it termed an “ordinary mission”. Taiwan’s armed forces monitored the sailing and the situation is “as normal”, it added.
China’s military said it had tailed the last US warship to pass through the Taiwan Strait on December 19th, it also condemned that mission.
On December 20th, Taiwan deployed its navy and air force as a Chinese aircraft carrier group led by the country’s newest carrier, the Shandong, sailed through the Taiwan Strait.
The year of 2020 has been one of provocation when it comes to Taiwan and the United States, with China constantly disproving various movements and decisions by Washington in relation to Taiwan.
Taiwan claimed it faces daily military threats from “authoritarian forces”, President Tsai Ing-wen said on December 8th, as the United States announced a new $280m arms sale package to the Chinese-claimed island, the sixth this year.
The outgoing Trump administration has ramped up support for the democratic island, with 11 arms sale packages in total and on December 7th notified Congress of its plans to sell a new Field Information Communications System (FICS) to Taiwan.
Such sales have angered China, adding to the existing tension between Beijing and Washington, with China placing sanctions on US companies involved and stepping up its military activities near Taiwan, including regular air force missions.
Speaking at a security forum in Taipei, Tsai noted the threats in the region, including the “increasingly militarised” South China Sea, where China has built artificial islands with air and naval facilities claiming almost the entire area under its so-called “nine-dash line”.
The Ministry of National Defense details almost daily “incursions” into Taiwan’s airspace by Chinese aircraft. In September, China reportedly threatened or entered into Taiwan’s airspace 46 times in the past nine days, it said.
“Fly overs are happening almost every day now. Sometimes it’s electronic intelligence planes escorted by fighters, sometimes they’re anti-submarine warfare planes,” Liao “Kitsch” Yen-Fan, a security analyst at the Institute of National Defense and Security Research in Taiwan.
It should be reminded that Taiwan is officially a part of China.
Taiwan’s government has moved to reassure its people that the new administration of President-elect Joe Biden, a Democrat, will not mean reduced US backing for the island.
Speaking at the same forum, Kurt Campbell, a former US official who has advised Biden, said there was strong bipartisan support for Taiwan.
“There is a broad group of people across the political aisle that understand the profound strategic significance and our strategic interests in maintaining a strong relationship with Taiwan,” said Campbell, the top US diplomat for East Asia under former President Barack Obama.
It is unknown if the provocations would continue under Biden, but the tensions appear to be as high as ever.
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