China, US exchange barbs over military manoeuvres near Taiwan

The US Navy sent a ship through the Strait of Taiwan after China practised military drills

USS Port Royal sails through the Taiwan Strait on May 11, 2022.
The guided-missile cruiser USS Port Royal sailed through the Taiwan Strait on May 11 [Photo supplied by the US 7th Fleet]

The United States Navy sent its second ship in as many weeks through the Taiwan Strait on Tuesday as tensions with China flared up again in the seas of eastern Asia.

The US 7th Fleet said the USS Port Royal, a Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser, sailed near Taiwan “in accordance with international law”.

The US Navy and its allies conduct regular freedom of navigation patrols around Taiwan, a self-ruling democracy which China claims as its own.

Chinese People’s Liberation Army Eastern Theatre Command said that it shadowed the US cruiser on Tuesday, according to state media, and accused the US of showing support for “Taiwan independence secessionist forces”.

The Eastern Theatre Command made similar statements at the end of April after the US Navy sailed another warship through the 180-kilometre-wide Taiwan Strait.

The drill appears to be the latest in a tit-for-tat exchange with Beijing, said Michael Mazza, a non-resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, although not yet reason to worry.

“I think these interactions are becoming the new normal – frequent moments of somewhat heightened tension, but nothing all that dangerous,” he told Al Jazeera.

The PLA has, meanwhile, been engaged in its own military drills.

On Friday, Beijing sent 18 warplanes into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone, an area of land and sea around southern China and Taiwan monitored by Taiwan’s military.

It was the biggest sortie since January 23, when Beijing sent 39 planes.

On Tuesday, the PLA flew 100 sorties from its Liaoning aircraft carrier, stationed off the coast of Okinawa, a Japanese island that lies to the northeast of Taiwan and which is also home to a US military base.

The PLA was probably testing the capability of the Liaoning and how fast aircraft can take off and land, said Liao “Kitsch” Yen-fan, a military and cyber-affairs consultant for Doublethink Lab in Taiwan.

“They’re testing out the endurance and capacity, and the last few cruises were testing things such as underway replenishment and endurance,” he said, in order to optimise performance.

But the Liaoning test carried a political meaning as well, he said, after the US State Department also angered Beijing by changing the language about Taiwan on its official website this week.

The website previously stated that the US does not support Taiwan’s independence and acknowledged there is “one China” made up of both China and Taiwan. In its place, it simply refers to Taiwan as a close ally in Asia.

The policy has long been seen as a workaround to the disputed political status of Taiwan, whose formal name is the Republic of China, although it has all but dropped claims to represent China since its transition to democracy in the 1990s.

While largely symbolic, dropping these references is the latest show of support for Taiwan by the US. Under President Donald Trump and now President Joe Biden both sides have grown closer, and the change is reflected in more vocal support as well as arms sales.

Source: Al Jazeera