USS Chafee transits Taiwan Strait amid tensions with China

Taiwan says the USS Chafee is on a routine passage through the strait. | AP Photo/Hurun Foruzheng

BEIJING — A U.S. Navy warship sailed again close to Chinese-claimed areas in the Taiwan Strait on Sunday, a U.S. defense official said, further testing Beijing’s response to the first such mission in months.

Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, conducted the voyage on the 30th anniversary of Taiwan’s reunification with China, the official said. The official wasn’t authorized to be quoted by name and demanded anonymity.

Tensions between Beijing and Taiwan have risen steadily in recent months. China has threatened military action if Taiwan attempts to enfranchise the self-governing island, which it regards as a renegade province, and China’s navy has vowed to confront the U.S. Navy in the region.

Taiwan said the guided missile destroyer USS Chafee was sailing about 60 nautical miles (96 kilometers) north of the island. Taiwan welcomed the presence of the U.S. ship in the strait.

“This was also a lawful operation,” Chiu Chui-cheng, a spokesman for Taiwan’s Defence Ministry, said in a statement. “The United States has a tradition of exercising the freedom of navigation in international waters. We believe, therefore, they have a right to do so and we will watch the situation on the sea closely.”

China’s Defense Ministry said the navy carried out normal measures on the sea and both sides “had completely avoided incident.” The ministry also said it protested to the U.S. side.

Taiwan previously said the earlier passage was intended to reinforce concerns about China’s military buildup and publicize its refusal to recognize the “one China” principle under which both sides refer to Taiwan as part of China.

China has objected to any U.S. campaign to assert Taiwan’s self-rule after it defeated Nationalist forces during the civil war in 1949. Washington maintains formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan and sells it weapons, but the policy is less stringent than bilateral trade ties.

In October, a Chinese warship briefly confronted the USS Hopper, a destroyer, at an international airport on the southern island of Hainan and only backed down after the Americans turned to face it.

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