China’s defence ministry has protested the passage of a US Navy warship and coastguard cutter through the waters between China and Taiwan, a self-governing island claimed by Beijing.
A statement posted on the ministry’s website on Saturday called the move provocative and said it showed the United States is the biggest threat to peace and stability and creator of security risks in the 160-km (100-mile) wide Taiwan Strait.
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“We express firm opposition and strong condemnation,” it said.
The USS Kidd guided-missile destroyer and coastguard cutter Munro sailed through the strait on Friday in international waters, the US Navy said. Such exercises are seen as a warning to China, which recently conducted drills near Taiwan and has not renounced the use of force if needed to bring the island under its control.
“The ships’ lawful transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” a statement from the Navy’s Japan-based Seventh Fleet said.
‘Maintaining open channels’
Saturday’s statement came a day after Reuters news agency quoted a senior Pentagon official as saying talks between Chinese and American military officials were taking place for the first time since US President Joe Biden took office in January.
“[They] utilised the US-PRC defence telephone link to conduct a secure video conference,” the US official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Both sides agreed on the importance of maintaining open channels of communication between the two militaries.”
Officials said US defence chief Lloyd Austin has yet to speak with his Chinese counterpart, in part because there was a debate about which Chinese official was Austin’s counterpart.
Taiwan, home to 23.6 million people, split from China during a civil war that led to the Communist Party taking control of the mainland in 1949. The US does not have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan but maintains a representative office in the capital, Taipei, and is its biggest supplier of military equipment for its defence.
Saturday’s defence ministry statement said, “Taiwan is an inalienable part of China,” and Beijing will not tolerate any interference in what it called its internal affairs.