US and Canadian warships crossed the Taiwan Strait on Tuesday in the first military freedom of navigation operation since US President Joe Biden said the United States would defend Taiwan if attacked by China.
The United States Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Higgins and Royal Canadian Navy frigate HMCS Vancouver conducted “a routine transit through the Taiwan Strait on September 20 in waters where freedoms of navigation and overflight on the high seas apply in accordance with international law,” the Pentagon said. Press Secretary Brig. General Pat Ryder told reporters on Tuesday.
China claimed that the Taiwan Strait was not international waters, but “are China’s internal waters” and “territorial sea“. However, under international law, the Taiwan Strait contains a corridor of international waters and airspace beyond the territorial sea of any state where all ships can navigate freely.
“Higgins and Vancouver’s transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the commitment of the United States and our allies and partners to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” a statement from the U.S. Seventh Fleet added. which covers US military naval operations in the Eastern Pacific. and the Indian Oceans.
The strait separates Taiwan, a self-governing democratic island, from mainland China.
Beijing claims sovereignty over Taiwan and its surrounding waters although the Chinese Communist Party has never controlled the island.
The transit comes shortly after CBS “60 Minutes” aired an interview with President Biden in which he said US troops would defend the island from attack. The US president had already pledged to defend Taiwan, but he added in this interview that “American men and women” would be part of that defense.
Prior to his statement, US policy remained intentionally ambiguous about how the United States would defend Taiwan if the democratic island were to be attacked by China.
Tuesday’s transit marked the second time a US Navy warship has made the trip through the Taiwan Strait since Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the island. USS Antietam and USS Chancellorsville passed through the strait in late August.
Tensions between Beijing and Taipei are high, with the Chinese military holding major military exercises near the island.