A U.S. warship and a Canadian frigate made a routine transit through the Taiwan Strait on Tuesday, September 20th at a time of increasing military tension between Beijing and Taipei.
This is the second transit in a month from a U.S. Navy ship and the second jointly by the United States and Canada in less than a year since October 2021. While China condemned the mission, saying its forces “warned” the ships, the United States has long used “freedom of navigation” passages through the Taiwan Strait to push back against Chinese claims. Western allies, such as Britain and Canada, have increasingly supported and thus joined these operations by routinely sailing through the strait.
According to the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet, the USS Higgins, along with the Royal Canadian Navy’s Halifax-class frigate HMCS Vancouver, “conducted a routine Taiwan Strait transit…in accordance with international law.” They added that the “ship transited through a corridor in the strait that is beyond the territorial sea of any coastal state.”
The U.S. Navy added that “cooperation like this represents the centerpiece of our approach to a secure and prosperous region.” Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said during a Tuesday press briefing that strait transit was done outside of any territorial waters. Beijing’s official position is that the strait is part of their territory.
Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand said that as a Pacific nation, Canada was deeply committed to upholding global stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region. In a statement regarding the operation, she said, “Today’s routine Taiwan Strait transit demonstrates our commitment to a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific.”
Taiwan’s foreign ministry welcomed the operation. In a statement it said, “This operation through the Taiwan Strait is, even more, a concrete demonstration of the resolute opposition of democratic allies to China’s expansion attempts.”
China condemns U.S. policy towards Taiwan
The operation comes after President Joe Biden was asked in an interview whether US troops would defend Taiwan to which Biden replied affirmatively that he would if it were “an unprecedented attack.” The response drew backlash from Beijing with Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mao Ning stating that “the US remarks severely violate the important commitment the US made not to support Taiwan independence.”
However, the President seemed to also reference the Taiwan Relations Act in the interview, saying that U.S. policy towards Taiwan has remained in place. The Act requires that the US provide Taiwan with munitions to defend itself should it be deemed necessary.
The provocative passage of ships also comes at the closure of a military exercise in Fiji involving the United States, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand. The exercise is set to end this week. The United States has promised greater engagement with the South Pacific after China and the Solomon Islands signed a bilateral security treaty in May that has raised fears of a Chinese naval base being established in the region.
The Taiwan Strait has been a frequent source of military tension since the defeated Republic of China government fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war with the communists, who established the People’s Republic of China.
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