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China Decries Monthly ‘Provocations’ As U.S. Warship Transits Taiwan Strait

An American destroyer sailed through Chinese-claimed waters for the third time in a week.

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On Wednesday, after the U.S. Navy made public the passage of a warship through the tense Taiwan Strait for the sixth time this year, the Chinese military accused the United States of new provocations.

The People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theater Command’s spokesman, Colonel Shi Yi, said on Tuesday that Chinese forces had followed the USS Benfold as it passed through the Taiwan Strait. At its narrowest, the strait is about 80 miles across.

Shi said that the United States’ “frequent provocations and grandstanding” prove that it is a threat to stability in the Taiwan Strait and a source of security concerns for the region.

Earlier today (Tuesday, local time), an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer named Benfold transited the Taiwan Strait “in accordance with international law,” according to a statement posted on the website of the Seventh Fleet, which is based in Japan.

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The ship “transited through a corridor in the Strait that is beyond the territorial sea of any coastal State,” it said. “Taking the ship through the Taiwan Strait was a show of U.S. support for a free and open Indo-Pacific. The United States military operates its planes, ships, and submarines wherever they are legal under international law.”

Despite never having ruled the democratic island, Taiwan claims to be a sovereign nation independent from China. This territorial claim has been upheld by the People’s Republic of China for decades. Despite growing political and military pressure from its cross-strait neighbor, Taipei continues to face public opposition to any form of Beijing rule.

Photos from Xi Jinping’s trip to Hong Kong to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the handover (Reuters)

An American warship did indeed transit the strait from south to north, as confirmed by Taiwan’s Defense Ministry on Wednesday. The ministry reported that weather and sea conditions in the area around the Taiwan Strait were typical.

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The Chinese government has been fuming over the same warship’s freedom of navigation operations, which have challenged Beijing’s maritime claims in the South China Sea on multiple occasions over the past week. On July 13 and July 16, respectively, the Benfold came within striking distance of the Paracel and Spratly Islands. China and its neighbors have conflicting claims to both of these island chains.

Every month since January, the United States has made public its transit through the Taiwan Strait, reassuring Taipei and other American allies in Asia. This most recent transit, which occurred on Tuesday, was the sixth such event to receive widespread media attention this year. In May, the USS Port Royal, a guided-missile cruiser from the Ticonderoga class, navigated the seas.

A month after China publicly questioned the legal status of the Taiwan Strait, asserting jurisdiction over the waterway in a way that suggested American naval operations in the area were illegal, the Benfold sailed through the strait.

The United States argued that China’s stance violated the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which protects the right of all ships to freely navigate international waters. The United States has pledged to maintain its presence in areas where it is lawful under UNCLOS.

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