China Expects U.S. Navy To Transit Taiwan Strait Again Soon

October 30, 2018 5:03 PM
Satellite image of the Taiwan Strait, separated mainland China on the left, from the island of Taiwan on the right. NASA photo

China expects the U.S. Navy to send warships through the Taiwan Strait in November, an action Chinese officials say infringes on their national sovereignty but American military leaders say is in keeping with international law.

According to media reports, China expects U.S. Navy ships to soon sail through the narrow body of water separating mainland China from Taiwan, Senior Col. Wu Qian, the director general of the Information Office of China’s Ministry of National Defense, said according to a state-issued English translation of his monthly press briefing.

“We have noticed related reports. China’s position on Taiwan and the South China Sea remains unchanged. The Chinese military’s determination to safeguard national sovereignty and regional peace and stability is rock-solid,” Wu said.

Wu did not identify the source of this future ship movement information, and U.S. Navy officials would neither confirm nor deny such activity is planned for the near future.

When asked if there was a response to the statement from China, or if there had been any coordination or advance notice of a U.S. Navy ship passage through the region, a Navy spokesperson told USNI News, “we’re not going to talk about future ship movements.”

However, according to media reports, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said during a visit to the Philippines on Monday that the U.S. Navy would continue sailing through the Taiwan Strait and past reefs and artificial islands dotting the South China Sea that China claims as its own. In some cases, international law does not recognize these claims.

“We will continue to progress this program of freedom of navigation operations,” Richardson said, according to an Associated Press report. “We do dozens of these operations around the world to indicate our position for … illegitimate claims, maritime claims.”

On October 22, Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG-54) and Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam (CG-54) transited the roughly 110-mile-wide Taiwan Strait with no incidents, according to Pentagon officials.

“The Taiwan issue concerns the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China and is the most important and sensitive issue in the China-U.S. relationship,” Hua Chunying, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said in a statement issued October 23. “We urge the U.S. to strictly abide by the three China-U.S. joint communiques and properly handle Taiwan-related issues so as to avoid impairing bilateral relations as well as peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”

A month ago in the South China Sea, a Chinese Luyang-class destroyer was on a near-collision course with USS Decatur (DDG-73) while Decatur conducted a freedom of navigation operation by two land features near the Gaven Reef, located in the Spratly Islands. The U.S. Navy called this an unsafe and unprofessional incident by the Chinese.

Last week, when asked about a possible reaction to a U.S. Navy warship transit of the Taiwan Strait, Wu provided a somewhat cryptic answer, implying China was ready for any contingency.

“Your question reminds me of the recent CCTV special program called ‘Pingyu Jinren,’ which is about President Xi (Jinping)’s quotes in his speeches and reports,” Wu said, according to the briefing’s state-issued English translation. “In one episode, it says President Xi quoted many times the poem, ‘From whichever direction the winds leap, I remain strong, though dealt many a blow.’ I think this can be the answer to your question.”

Ben Werner

Ben Werner

Ben Werner is a staff writer for USNI News. He has worked as a freelance writer in Busan, South Korea, and as a staff writer covering education and publicly traded companies for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C., Savannah Morning News in Savannah, Ga., and Baltimore Business Journal. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree from New York University.

Get USNI News updates delivered to your inbox