China protested on Wednesday the passage of a U.S. Navy destroyer through Taiwan’s southeastern passage.
The sail-by was made to pass through the Pacific Ocean, which includes the Strait of Taiwan, and follows numerous statements from the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the U.S. ambassador to Taiwan Terry Branstad, who has said that it was not unusual for the Pentagon to dispatch a military ship to the area.
Taiwan’s defense ministry condemned the U.S. action as “gravely interfering with regional peace and stability,” warning the Pentagon against any more violations. The government is set to reconsider its presence in the area.
Meanwhile, the Chinese government’s top military newspaper accused the U.S. of hounding its military forces “till it becomes silent,” according to CNN.
“As long as the U.S. flies in the air, waves with its warships in the sea and drops bombs, nothing can stop it,” said the Global Times, according to CNN.
Pentagon spokeswoman Ashley Bacon said that she had not been aware of China’s official protest, but added that the purpose of the sail-by was to assess “whether the Chinese military was operating in the area within agreed-upon international maritime boundary.”
She said that the Chinese ship had been following a U.S. ship for an hour before the “physical confrontation happened,” but did not provide additional details, other than to say it was “totally fine.”
During the Cold War, the Strait of Taiwan, which cuts across the center of China, was known as the “Odyssey” for its strategic significance, as the passage between the center of the mainland and southern Taiwan had been controlled by Washington during that time. From the mid-1990s until a rapid thaw in relations under U.S. president George W. Bush, Taiwan’s government was propped up by the U.S. military.
Taiwan, a self-ruled democracy, was invaded by the Communists in 1949 and has since suffered three decades of struggle for political and economic independence from mainland China. The China government only recognizes the government in Taipei as the authority over the island, the result of its prolonged and bitter political and military struggle.
Despite the importance of the Strait to the conflict, the U.S. does not openly call itself a responsible stakeholder in the history of Taiwan, which it considers to be a “renegade province.”
Although more than half of all Taiwanese are currently either opposed to Chinese mainland expansionism or neutral on the issue, the U.S. has not ruled out the possibility of military force in the future against China if it tries to take control of the island. In December, President Trump called U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, an influential Republican who advocates U.S. military intervention to thwart Chinese expansionism, and Graham said that if China expanded too much into the region, “I would give my name to do whatever it takes.”
Trump’s call, that Graham described as “very interesting,” came in the same month that his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Ambassador to Taiwan Terry Branstad said that it was “not a usual practice” for the U.S. Navy to patrol within 12 nautical miles of Taiwan.
“It was a provocative action and that is not usual,” Graham said of the naval patrol.
China, said Graham, was “going to watch this and probably react for a while before deciding what to do,” and added that the U.S. decision was “a good indicator that Taiwan is not going to become part of China.”
U.S. president Donald Trump famously told an Australian newspaper last year that he would be prepared to go to war to defend Taiwan, but has since said he does not believe this is necessary.