The U.S. Navy on Wednesday sent two ships through the Taiwan Strait, marking its latest trip through the disputed waterway in a move likely to anger China as Washington and Beijing ratchet up tensions in their prolonged trade war.
A military spokesperson confirmed to The Hill that the voyage was carried out by the destroyer Preble and the Navy oil tanker Walter S. Diehl.
“The ships’ transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. The U.S. Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows,” Commander Clay Doss, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet, said in a statement.
Taiwan has long been one of several flashpoints in the relationship between the U.S. and China, whch have included economic disputes, sanctions and Chinese military activity in the South China Sea, where the U.S. also sends naval patrols. The news comes as the world's two largest economies have slapped millions of dollars of tit-for-tat tariffs on each other in an escalating trade war.
The move could be interpreted by Taiwan, a self-ruled island that China insists is part of its territory, as a sign of support from Washington.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang responded to the transit, saying Beijing had lodged “stern representations” with the United States.
“The Taiwan issue is the most sensitive in China-U.S. relations,” he said at a daily news briefing in Beijing, according to Reuters.
Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said it had monitored the mission, and Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen sought to ease concerns over the trip.
“Nothing abnormal happened during it, please everyone rest assured,” she wrote on her Facebook page.
U.S. ships have traversed the Taiwan Strait monthly since such missions resumed on a regular basis last July, according to Reuters.
The U.S. has no official diplomatic ties with Taiwan, though is its main source of arms, selling Taipei more than $15 billion in weaponry since 2010.
Beijing has increased efforts to assert its territorial claims over Taiwan, repeatedly sending military aircraft and ships to circle the island and work to isolate it from diplomatic allies.
Updated at 4:57 p.m.