• AFP-JIJI, REUTERS

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A U.S. warship sailed through the strait separating Taiwan and China on Tuesday, the Navy said, the first such passage since leaders from the two rival superpowers held a video summit.

The passage through the Taiwan Strait by the USS Milius guided-missile destroyer was a routine transit, the U.S. 7th Fleet said.

The voyage, the 11th declared freedom of navigation exercise of the year, “demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” it said in a statement.

The latest transit came after U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping traded strong warnings on the future of Taiwan at a virtual summit earlier this month.

Chinese state media reported after the summit that Xi cautioned Biden that encouraging Taiwanese independence would be “playing with fire.”

U.S. warships periodically conduct exercises in the strait, often triggering angry responses from Beijing, which claims Taiwan and surrounding waters as its own territory.

The U.S. and many other countries view the route as international waters open to all.

A growing number of U.S. allies have transited the route as Beijing intensifies its military threats toward Taiwan and solidifies its control over the disputed South China Sea.

British, Canadian, French and Australian warships have all made passages through the Taiwan Strait in recent years, sparking protests from China.

Collin Koh, a research fellow at Singapore’s S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, keeps a database of declared U.S. transits through the Taiwan Strait.

Nine were conducted in 2019 followed by 15 in 2020. So far this year there have been 11, including the USS Milius crossing.

China claims democratically ruled Taiwan as its own territory, and has mounted repeated air force missions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over the past year or so, provoking anger in Taipei.

The United States like most countries has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan but is its most important international backer and arms supplier. Beijing calls Taiwan the most sensitive and important issue in its relations with Washington.

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