A US Navy warship sailed through the Taiwan Strait for the first time since Biden became commander in chief

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The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Gavin Shields
  • A US Navy destroyer transited the Taiwan Strait for the first time under the new Biden administration.
  • The service called it “routine” and said the transit was conducted “in accordance with international law.”
  • China said it remains on “high alert” and “is ready to respond to all threats and provocations at any time.”
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The US Navy destroyer USS John S. McCain sailed through the Taiwan Strait Thursday, marking the first such transit since President Joe Biden took office.

By transiting the Taiwan Strait, the warship demonstrated “the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” 7th Fleet said in a statement, adding that the “United States military will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.”

The Navy’s language is common for both Taiwan Strait transits and freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea, both of which are not uncommon.

The latest Taiwan Strait follows another on Dec. 31, 2020 that involved the McCain, as well as the destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur. In total, the US Navy sent warships through the Taiwan Strait 13 times last year as tensions rose between China and the democratic nation it views as a breakaway province.

The routine transits, as the Navy notes, are conducted “in accordance with international law, yet China bristles at the presence of US military assets near what it perceives as sensitive national interests, in this case Taiwan.

“China will continue to stay on high alert and is ready to respond to all threats and provocations at any time, and will resolutely safeguard its national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin said in response Thursday.

“We hope the US side will play a constructive role for regional peace and stability, rather than the opposite,” he added.

Thursday’s transit comes a little over a week after the Chinese military sent a force of eight H-6K bombers, four J-16 fighter jets, and one Y-8 anti-submarine warfare aircraft flying past Taiwan and into the South China Sea.

The US Navy’s Theodore Roosevelt carrier strike group entered the contested waterway at the same time, and the Chinese aircraft conducted a simulated attack run, using the American aircraft carrier as a mock target.

US Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement that “the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group closely monitored all People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and Air Force (PLAAF) activity, and at no time did they pose a threat to US Navy ships, aircraft, or Sailors.”

The US military criticised China’s actions as “aggressive and destabilizing” as the State Department called out Beijing for its efforts to militarily, economically, and diplomatically pressure Taiwan.

During the Trump administration, the US took significant steps to arm Taiwan against possible Chinese aggression, an option Beijing has never dismissed as it considers paths to reunification, and that commitment to Taiwan’s defence is expected to continue under Biden.

Biden’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during his confirmation hearing that part of the “long and strong bipartisan commitment to Taiwan” is making sure that “Taiwan has the ability to defend itself against aggression.”

“That is a commitment that will absolutely endure in the Biden administration,” Blinken said. ‘We will make sure that Taiwan has the ability to do that.”

Last Monday, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian told the US to “refrain from sending any wrong signals to the ‘Taiwan independence’ forces so as to avoid damaging China-US relations and peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

A Chinese Ministry of Defence spokesman said a few days later that Taiwan independence would mean war, reiterating a well-known Chinese position.

Last Thursday, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby reaffirmed US support for Taiwan’s defence but said that tensions “need not lead to anything like confrontation.”