US and Canadian warships sailed through the Taiwan Strait on Tuesday following weekend remarks from President Joe Biden that the US would defend Taiwan in the event it is attacked by China.
A US Navy ship, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Higgins, conducted a “routine Taiwan Strait transit” on Tuesday, US Navy spokesperson Lt. Mark Langford said in a statement.
The US ship conducted the transit “in cooperation with Royal Canadian Navy Halifax-class frigate HMCS Vancouver,” Langford said.
The two ships “transited through a corridor in the Strait that is beyond the territorial sea of any coastal State,” Lt. Langford said. The transit “demonstrates the commitment of the United States and our allies and partners to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Lt. Langford added.
Tuesday’s transit marked the second time in just over three weeks that a US Navy warship had made the voyage. The guided-missile cruisers USS Antietam and USS Chancellorsville did so on August 28.
Though the US called the transit “routine,” it comes after Biden added fuel to tensions between Washington and Beijing over Taiwan, telling CBS’s “60 Minutes” that he would use US troops to defend the island if China tried to invade.
The strait is a 110-mile (180-kilometer) stretch of water that separates the democratic self-ruled island of Taiwan from mainland China.
Beijing claims sovereignty over Taiwan – an island of 23 million people – despite China’s ruling Communist Party never having controlled it. Beijing also claims sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the waters of the Taiwan Strait under Chinese law and its interpretation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
The US Navy, however, says most of the strait is in international waters, citing a UNCLOS definition of territorial waters as extending 12 nautical miles (22.2 kilometers) from a country’s coastline. The US regularly sends its warships through the strait, making dozens of such transits in recent years.
In the CBS interview, Biden was asked whether “US forces, US men and women, would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion.”
“Yes,” the US President replied.
The comments reiterate a pledge to defend Taiwan that Biden has previously made, though Sunday he specified that “US men and women” would be involved in the effort.
Canadian Ministry of Defence Head of Media Relations Daniel Le Bouthillier confirmed Canada participated in the transit on Tuesday.
“Following port visits in Jakarta, Indonesia, and Manila, Philippines, HMCS Vancouver sailed through the Taiwan Strait along with the USS Higgins, as this was the most direct navigational route. This sail was done in full accordance with international law, including high seas navigation rights as outlined in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea,” Le Bouthillier told CNN.
Chinese aircraft and ships were present through “various parts” of the US and Canadian ships’ transit, US military confirmed, but “all interactions with foreign military forces during the transit were consistent with international standards and practices and did not impact the operation,” Langford said.
Beijing swiftly condemned Biden’s weekend comments and repeated its warning that China reserves the “option to take all necessary measures” to defend its territorial integrity and sovereignty.
“The US remarks seriously violate the one-China principle and the provisions of the three US-China joint communiqués. It is also a serious violation of the important commitment made by the US side not to support Taiwan independence,” China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Mao Ning said in a briefing Monday.
“It sent a serious wrong signal to the separatist forces of Taiwan independence. China expresses its strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition and has made serious representations to the US side,” Mao added.
US and Canadian warships last went through the strait at the same time 11 months ago, when the destroyer USS Dewey and frigate HMCS Winnipeg made the trip.
After that transit, Senior Col. Shi Yi, spokesperson for the People’s Liberation Army Eastern Theater Command, said in a written statement that “the US and Canada made provocations with odious nature and stirred up troubles in cahoots, which seriously jeopardized the peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”
Chinese leader Xi Jinping has said that “reunification” between China and Taiwan is inevitable and refused to rule out the use of force. Tensions between Beijing and Taipei are at the highest they’ve been in recent decades, with the Chinese military holding major military drills near the island.