In a move likely to escalate already heightened tensions, the United States Navy sailed its USS John Finn through the strategically vital Taiwan Strait on Wednesday. This transit followed recent presidential and parliamentary elections in Taiwan, which drew sharp criticism from Beijing.
The USS John Finn traversed a corridor in the Taiwan Strait that the U.S. Navy specified as “beyond the territorial sea of any coastal state.” Emphasizing its commitment to the principle of freedom of navigation, the U.S. Navy stated that this action was aimed at upholding rights and freedoms, asserting that no nation should succumb to intimidation or coercion.
However, China’s military, the People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theatre Command, dismissed the mission as “public hyping” and accused the U.S. of frequently engaging in provocative acts to undermine regional peace and stability. The command claimed the USS John Finn to be monitored and warned during transit.
Taiwan’s defence ministry, on the other hand, reported that the U.S. warship sailed in a southerly direction through the strait, and it monitored the situation, deeming it “normal.” This marks the latest in a series of U.S. Navy transits through the Taiwan Strait, with the last announced passage occurring in early November, accompanied by a Canadian frigate.
The timing of the U.S. Navy’s move aligns with a visit to Taipei by leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives Taiwan Caucus, reinforcing support for Taiwan after its January 13 elections. The island nation, which China considers its territory, has been a point of contention, with Beijing regularly dispatching warplanes and warships near Taiwan to assert sovereignty, a claim rejected by its government.
Just last week, Taiwan’s defence ministry reported detecting 18 Chinese air force planes engaged in “joint combat readiness patrols” with Chinese warships around the island. This marked the first significant military activity following the Taiwanese election.
As geopolitical tensions persist in the region, the U.S. Navy’s transit through the Taiwan Strait serves as a symbolic gesture of support for Taiwan and underscores the complex dynamics in the Taiwan Strait, where the interests of the United States and China intersect with the island’s aspirations for autonomy.