China criticizes US for ship's passage through Taiwan Strait, weeks before new leader takes office

China's military is criticizing the U.S. as hyping its warship's passage through the Taiwan Strait

Christopher Bodeen
Thursday 09 May 2024 03:07 BST

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

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China’s military criticized a U.S. destroyer’s passage through the Taiwan Strait, which occurred less than two weeks before the island's new president takes office and while Washington and Beijing are making uneven efforts to restore regular military exchanges.

Navy Senior Capt. Li Xi, spokesman for the Eastern Theater Command, accused the U.S. of having “publicly hyped” the passage of the USS Halsey on Wednesday. In a statement, Li said the command, which oversees operations around the strait, “organized naval and air forces to monitor" the ship's transit and handle matters ”in accordance with laws and regulations.”

The Navy’s 7th Fleet said the Halsey “conducted a routine Taiwan Strait transit on May 8 through waters where high-seas freedoms of navigation and overflight apply in accordance with international law."

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer transited through a corridor in the Strait that is “beyond the territorial sea” of any coastal state, the fleet's statement said.

“Halsey’s transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the United States’ commitment to upholding freedom of navigation for all nations as a principle,” it said “No member of the international community should be intimidated or coerced into giving up their rights and freedoms. The United States military flies, sails, and operates anywhere international law allows.”

The last such passage was April 17, a day after U.S. and Chinese defense chiefs held their first talks since November 2022 in an effort to reduce regional tensions. Military-to-military contact stalled in August 2022, when Beijing suspended all such communication after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan. China responded by firing missiles over Taiwan and staging a surge in military maneuvers, including what appeared to be a rehearsal of a naval and aerial blockade of the island.

The critical strait is 160 kilometers (100 mile) wide and divides China from Taiwan, the self-governing island democracy where President-elect William Lai Ching-te will be inaugurated on May 20. Lai's Democratic Progressive Party favors Taiwan's de facto independent status that maintains strong unofficial relations with the U.S. and other major nations.

Although the heavily transited strait is international waters and vital to global trade, China considers the passage of warships from the U.S., Britain and other nations through the Taiwan Strait as a challenge to its sovereignty.

China sends navy ships and warplanes into the strait and other areas around the island almost daily to wear down Taiwan’s defenses and seek to intimidate its 23 million people, who firmly back their de facto independence.

Taiwan's Defense Ministry said 23 Chinese military aircraft and eight naval ships were detected operating around Taiwan in the 24 hours leading up to 6 a.m. Thursday. Eight of the planes crossed the median line in the strait and entered Taiwan's air defense identification zone, prompting Taiwan to scramble jets and put coastal missile batteries and naval craft on alert.

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