Beijing Warns Latest Navy Transit of Taiwan Strait Raises 'Risks' in Region

The Chinese military on Thursday protested the U.S. Navy's latest passage through the Taiwan Strait, saying the appearance of another American warship was raising "risks" in the region.

The U.S.S. Curtis Wilbur, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, completed a "routine" transit of the sensitive waters between China and Taiwan on Wednesday local time, said a statement by the U.S. 7th Fleet.

The operation was done "in accordance with international law" and "demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific," it continued.

China "tracked and monitored" the U.S. warship throughout its transit, said Zhang Chunhui, a spokesperson for the People's Liberation Army's Eastern Theater Command headquartered in Nanjing, Jiangsu.

He said the deployment was a contributing factor in the "man-made risks in the Taiwan Strait" and was "deliberately undermining regional peace and stability."

"The United States military," the Navy's statement said, "will continue to fly, sail, and operate anywhere international law allows."

"The U.S. Navy has made such transits through the Taiwan Strait routinely in the past, for decades without necessarily announcing them," said Singapore-based analyst Collin Koh, who has been logging similar reports and other freedom of navigation operations—or FONOPs—conducted by the United States.

"The Taiwan Strait is a common waterway that connects the South China Sea to Northeast Asia, including Japan and Korea where the U.S. maintains a standing military presence," said Koh, who is a maritime security specialist at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

He told Newsweek it would make "little practical sense" for U.S. vessels to take a more convoluted route around eastern Taiwan—a maneuver that would cost both time and fuel.

In the past few years, however, similar announcements by the Navy have become more frequent. Koh attributes this to the PLA's escalating military activity in the Taiwan Strait—and the U.S.'s response to it.

Last Friday, nine Chinese warplanes, among them heavy bombers, flew sorties into Taiwan's southwestern air defense identification zone. Taipei had announced a cabinet reshuffle the same day, with President Tsai Ing-wen appointing new ministers to her defense and intelligence agencies.

The PLA air force incursions—now viewed as "routine" by the island's own security analysts, continued the following day as Chinese fighter jets, bombers and a reconnaissance aircraft triggered Taiwan's air defense alarms.

The U.S. Navy's announcements of Taiwan Strait passages in recent times "has to do more with demonstrating Washington's commitment to secure Taiwan against China's armed aggression," Koh said.

The U.S. military's responses were now "more critical," given the PLA's activity off the island, he added.

He said China had increased its naval and air presence on its side of the Taiwan Strait "median line," but there has been no attempt to obstruct the U.S. Navy transits thus far.

Wednesday's operation was the Navy's second reported Taiwan Strait passage under President Joe Biden, following a transit by the USS John S. McCain earlier this month.

Since Biden's inauguration, there have also been two FONOPs in the contested waters of the South China Sea.

Last week, the U.S. 7th Fleet said guided-missile destroyer USS Russel "asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the Spratly Islands," in what it described as a challenge to "unlawful and sweeping maritime claims" by Beijing and other governments in the region.

U.S. Navy Warship Sails Through Taiwan Strait
File photo: Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur. Sarah Myers/U.S. Navy