China-Taiwan fistfight in Fiji raises concerns that broader US-China rivalry could destabilise the Pacific.
Two US warships sailed through the sensitive Taiwan Strait on Thursday in the second such mission this month, drawing a protest from Beijing. It happened almost two weeks after a Chinese aircraft carrier group used the same waterway.
China, which claims democratically run Taiwan as its own, has been angered by stepped-up United States support for the island, including arms sales and its warships sailing through the Taiwan Strait.
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 Defence 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 Defence 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 19 – a mission it also condemned.
The day after that trip, 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.
China said the group was on its way to routine drills in the disputed South China Sea.