Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Two U.S. Navy ships transited through the Taiwan Strait on Wednesday, the third time this year that U.S. Navy ships have sailed through the body of water separating China from Taiwan, once again drawing criticism from China. U.S. Navy transits through the Strait that divides China and Taiwan have been rare and infrequent, but the rising pace of the transits is another indication of growing U.S. and Chinese tensions, particularly over the South China Sea.
Wednesday's transit involved a U.S. Navy destroyer and a Navy oil tanker.
"USS Stockdale (DDG 106) and USNS Pecos (T-AO-197) conducted a routine Taiwan Strait Transit on Nov. 28 (local time), in accordance with international law," said Lt. Cmdr. Tim Gorman, U.S. Pacific Fleet Spokesman.
"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."
China has regularly criticized previous U.S. Navy passages and the latest transit was no different.
“We urge the United States to … cautiously and appropriately handle the Taiwan issue, avoid damaging the peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait and China-U.S. relations,” China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang was quoted by Reuters as saying on Thursday.
In July, the destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur and USS Antietam sailed through the Strait followed a few months later in October, the destroyers USS Mustin and USS Benfold sailed through the waterway.
The three transits have all occurred in the span of almost six months until the July transit the last time an American warship had sailed through the Strait was in July 2017.
The last time an American aircraft carrier sailed through the Strait was in 2007, a decision U.S. Pacific Fleet said at the time was a move to avoid bad weather on a scheduled sail.
An ongoing trade dispute between the U.S. and China has heightened tensions, President Trump will meet with Chinese President Xi this weekend in Argentina on the sidelines of the G-20 meeting.
There are also tensions over China's growing military presence on man-made islands in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. U.S. Navy ships have continued to sail past those islands claimed by China to demonstrate freedom of navigation through international waters.
China has increasingly begun to harass the U.S. ships as they conduct those passages through the Spratlys.
The closest call yet was in mid-October when a Chinese Navy ship came within 45 yards of the destroyer USS Decatur as it carried out a freedom of navigation passage through international waters close to those islands.
Another irritant in the U.S.-China relationship continues to be U.S. support for Taiwan. The U.S. continues to sell military weapons to the island nation even though it does not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan. China maintains Taiwan is a breakaway province and not an independent nation.
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