The U.S. is reportedly considering sending warships through the Taiwan Strait, a move likely to stir outrage in Beijing at a particularly tense time in U.S.-China relations.
The planned passage, confirmed to Reuters by U.S. officials, follows earlier plans to send an American aircraft carrier through the strait that ultimately failed to materialize. The last time the U.S. sailed a carrier through the strait was in 2007, when the USS Kitty Hawk and eight accompanying ships transited the Taiwan Strait on the way back to Japan after being barred from entering port in Hong Kong.
Some defense officials apparently believe another trip through the strait is long overdue, but for the time being, the Pentagon has yet to confirm any such plans.
“We have a vital interest in upholding the current rules-based international order, which features a strong, prosperous, and democratic Taiwan,” Department of Defense spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Logan told Reuters.
In recent months, China has put increased pressure on Taiwan, which Beijing perceives as a belligerent separatist territory rather than an independent country. Not only has China sent bombers and warships into the area regularly, but Beijing has also leaned hard on the self-ruled island’s few remaining diplomatic partners, pressing them to sever all ties.
“We have repeatedly emphasized that the Taiwan issue is the most important and sensitive core issue in the China-U.S. relationship,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Tuesday, urging the U.S. to handle the issue properly.
Reports that the U.S. may send warships through the strait come as the trade talks between China and the U.S. fail to bring an end to an escalating trade war, which is likely to become more intense if the Trump administration follows through on its plans to impose tariffs. Tensions are also on the rise in the South China Sea, where China is pursuing greater militarization.
The U.S. recently sent warships and bombers into the South China Sea to challenge China’s activities. The Department of Defense also disinvited China’s naval forces from the biennial Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) maritime exercises.
Washington and Beijing are also in a spat over the new de facto U.S. embassy in Taipei. Were the U.S. to sail warships through the strait, apparently offering support to Taiwan and its government — which Beijing suspects has independence leanings, it would likely raise bilateral tensions in the already troubled U.S.-China relationship.
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