The U.S. military has sent two warships through the Taiwan Strait for the second time this year as Washington ramps up its passages through the waterway amid tensions with China.
The two vessels, the guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur and the guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam, conducted what the U.S. military said was a “routine” transit of the Taiwan Strait on Monday, “in accordance with international law.”
Both warships are home-ported at the U.S. naval base in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture.
“The ships’ transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” U.S. Pacific Fleet Deputy Spokesman Cmdr. Nate Christensen said in a statement. “U.S. Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.”
Multiple Chinese warships had shadowed the two U.S. vessels during the transit, following at a safe distance, CNN reported, quoting defense officials.
Beijing expressed “serious concern” to the United States, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a news conference Tuesday.
“The Taiwan issue concerns China’s sovereignty and territory, and is the most important, most sensitive issue in China-U.S. relations,” she said.
China urged the United States to cautiously and appropriately handle the Taiwan issue to promote peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, she added.
Taiwan’s Defense Ministry had earlier announced on its website that the United States had sent two naval vessels through the 180-kilometer-wide stretch of water.
The ministry said in a statement that it had monitored the warships’ passage through the strait, and that it had been “in full control of the situation.”
China remains extremely sensitive about U.S. military forces in the waterway. The U.S. Navy last conducted a similar mission through the international waters in July, but before that had sent just one ship through the Taiwan Strait last year. It has not sailed an aircraft carrier in the area since 2007.
The operation comes amid heightened tensions between Taiwan and China, which has warned that it will defend — by force if necessary — its “One China” principle under which the self-ruling island is seen as part of China’s own territory, awaiting reunification.
Beijing has also lashed out at Washington over recent moves it sees as aiding the country.
The U.S. has no formal ties with Taiwan but is bound by law to help it defend itself and is the island’s main source of arms. The Pentagon says Washington has sold Taipei more than $15 billion in weaponry since 2010.
China has bolstered its military presence near Taiwan this year, sailing its sole operating aircraft carrier through the Taiwan Strait in January and March and holding large-scale “encirclement” exercises and bomber training nearby in recent months.
China’s hostility toward Taiwan has grown since the 2016 election of President Tsai Ing-wen, a member of the island’s pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party.