China on Thursday protested the passage of a U.S. destroyer through the Taiwan Strait in the latest move as both nations increase their naval activity in the region.
China tracked and monitored the USS John S. McCain throughout its passage on Wednesday, Zhang Chunhui, spokesperson for the Chinese military’s eastern theater command, said in a statement.
The U.S. move sent the “wrong signal” to Taiwan’s government and “willfully disrupted the regional situation by endangering peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” he said. China firmly opposed the move and Chinese forces will respond with “strict precautions and vigilance,” he added.
China threatens to invade Taiwan to assert its claim over the self-governing island democracy, which enjoys strong U.S. support.
In a one-sentence statement, the U.S. Navy said the McCain “conducted a routine Taiwan Strait transit April 7 (local time) through international waters in accordance with international law.”
The McCain’s transit follows China’s announcement Monday that its aircraft carrier Liaoning and associated vessels were holding drills near Taiwan meant to help it “safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests,” terms often interpreted as being directed at Taiwan’s leadership that has refused to give in to Beijing’s demands that it recognize the island as part of Chinese territory.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy announced the carrier Theodore Roosevelt and its strike group reentered the South China Sea on Saturday to “conduct routine operations,” the second time the strike group has entered the strategic waterway this year.
China claims the South China Sea almost in its entirety and strongly objects to foreign naval activity in the resource rich and heavily transited waters, especially the U.S. practice of sailing naval vessels close to Chinese-held features in what it terms “freedom of navigation operations.”
While the Taiwan Strait lies in international waters, its transiting by U.S. naval vessels is seen as a partly symbolic show that Washington will not permit Beijing’s forces to dominate the waterway.
Along with military exercises, China has been sending warplanes on practically a daily basis into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone to pressure the administration of President Tsai Ing-wen and advertise its threat of military action.
That prompted a statement from Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu on Wednesday that Taiwan would “fight a war if we need to fight a war, and if we need to defend ourselves to the very last day, then we will defend ourselves to the very last day.“
The vast improvements in China’s military capabilities and its increasing activity around Taiwan have raised concerns in the U.S., which is legally bound to ensure Taiwan is capable of defending itself and to regard all threats to the island’s security as matters of “grave concern.”
At a regular briefing on Wednesday, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price reiterated that, “Our commitment to Taiwan is rock-solid.”
“We think and we know that it contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and within the region as well,” Price said. “The United States maintains the capacity to resist any resort to force or any other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security or the social or economic system of the people on Taiwan.”