Chinese Navy Shadows U.S. and Canadian Warships Transiting Taiwan Strait

Chinese forces shadowed American and Canadian warships as they transited the Taiwan Strait together earlier this week, a military spokesperson said on Wednesday.

USS Higgins, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer of the U.S. Navy, and HMCS Vancouver, a Halifax-class frigate of the Royal Canadian Navy, crossed the strait on September 20, the allies confirmed in separate statements.

Colonel Shi Yi, a spokesperson for the Chinese People's Liberation Army Eastern Theater Command, said naval and air forces had been dispatched to "monitor and warn" the vessels.

"Theater command forces remain on high alert at all times to resolutely counter all threats and provocations, and resolutely defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity," said Shi.

U.S., Canadian Warships Transit Taiwan Strait
The U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Higgins, followed by the Royal Canadian Navy Halifax-class frigate HMCS Vancouver, on a routine transit through the Taiwan Strait on September 20. DND/CAF/Twitter

China claims Taiwan as its own and has vowed to seize control of the island one day, preferably peacefully but by force if necessary. Western capitals—Washington in particular—are watching the region as Taipei pledges to defend itself against Beijing, despite the ever-widening power gap between the cross-strait neighbors.

In a brief statement on Wednesday, Taiwan's defense ministry confirmed the American and Canadian ships had transited the strait in a northerly direction.

Its foreign ministry welcomed the allied presence to push back against China's "ambition to undermine the status quo in the Taiwan Strait."

"This Taiwan Strait transit was a concrete demonstration of the democratic allies' firm opposition to the expansionist ambitions of the Chinese side," said ministry spokesperson Joanne Ou.

U.S., Canadian Warships Transit Taiwan Strait
The HMCS Vancouver in the Taiwan Strait on September 20. Canada said the frigate was en route to the East China Sea as part of Operation NEON, which enforces UN sanctions on North Korea. Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Donavan K. Patubo/U.S. Navy

It was the U.S. Navy's eighth such transit of the year, but only the second since China launched large-scale war games around Taiwan in early August, in response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taipei.

Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruisers USS Antietam and USS Chancellorsville were sent through the strait on August 29.

A satellite image tweeted by Vietnam-based journalist Duan Dang showed the allied warships remaining on the Taiwan side of the "median line" throughout the passage. The line had served as an unofficial demarcation in the waters throughout the Cold War and for the first two decades of this century.

Since August, however, Chinese naval and air forces have crossed it at will. Beijing has rejected the line's existence in what Washington calls an attempt to create a "new normal" in the region.

Duan, an open-source intelligence researcher, identified at least two Chinese warships monitoring the allied transit from the China side of the median line, and two to three possible Taiwanese vessels on the Taiwan side.

Pentagon spokesperson Brigadier General Pat Ryder told reporters on Tuesday that he wasn't aware of "any incidents or unsafe behavior in the vicinity of the Taiwan Strait" during the transit.

U.S., Canadian Warships Transit Taiwan Strait
USS Higgins, followed by HMCS Vancouver, in the Taiwan Strait on September 20. The last U.S.-Canada joint transit took place in October 2021. DND/CAF/Twitter

Beijing and Washington have been at odds in recent months over the legal status of the Taiwan Strait, which China suggests doesn't allow for the unauthorized transit of foreign military vessels. The U.S. argues that the waters afford navigation rights under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The Japan-based U.S. Seventh Fleet said Tuesday's transit was conducted "through waters where high seas freedoms of navigation and overflight apply in accordance with international law."

The statement added: "Cooperation like this represents the centerpiece of our approach to a secure and prosperous region."

The Royal Canadian Navy's announcement included a statement from Anita Anand, Canada's defense minister. Anand said: "As a Pacific nation, Canada is deeply committed to upholding global stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region. Today's routine Taiwan Strait transit demonstrates our commitment to a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific."

The last U.S.-Canada joint transit took place in October 2021. Ottawa said the Vancouver was en route to the East China Sea as part of Operation NEON, Canada's contribution to enforcing UN sanctions on North Korea.