Joe Biden Keeps Up Pressure on China as U.S. Navy Warship Passes Taiwan Strait

The Chinese military has protested the presence of the latest U.S. Navy destroyer in the Taiwan Strait after an American warship sailed through the waters for the sixth time under the Biden administration.

The strait separating China from Taiwan proper is about 80 miles wide at its narrowest point, while Taiwan's outlying islands of Kinmen, or Quemoy, lie just over 3 miles from the Chinese coast.

The Taiwan Strait transit was conducted by the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur on June 22, according to a statement released by the U.S. 7th Fleet. It was the ship's third appearance in the waters this year, following similar passes on February 24 and May 18.

The routine operation was done in international waters "in accordance with international law," said the 7th Fleet, which added: "The ship's transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific."

"The United States military flies, sails, and operates anywhere international law allows," the statement concluded.

China's People's Liberation Army responded through its Eastern Theater Command, based in coastal Nanjing, on Wednesday. Its spokesperson, Zhang Chunhui, objected to what he called the "public hyping" of the transit, apparently referring to the 7th Fleet's publication of the event as part of the U.S. Navy's public diplomacy campaign.

"The United States is up to its old trick of provoking troubles in the Taiwan Strait, deliberately undermining regional security and jeopardizing peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait," Zhang said in a statement released online.

Zhang described the U.S. as "the region's biggest risk creator." PLA Navy and Air Force assets in the area "tracked and monitored" the U.S. warship throughout its journey, he added.

With six similar operations this year, the U.S. Navy has averaged one pass of the Taiwan Strait per month since President Joe Biden took office in January. The Arleigh Burke-class destroyers USS John S. McCain and USS John Finn were the other ships to take part in the routine missions to signal U.S. military presence in the region.

If the average holds, the U.S. Navy may come near or match last year's record total of 13 Taiwan Strait transits during the administration of former President Donald Trump.

The Biden administration's sanctioning of another 7th Fleet operation in the strait follows a consistent pattern of U.S. military posturing in the waters around China, which has grown more assertive under President Xi Jinping and underscored its intention to "unify" self-ruled Taiwan—if necessary by force.

More recently, the Biden administration's signals of support for Taiwan's democracy have also come in the form of vaccine diplomacy. A timely shipment of 2.5 million doses of U.S.-made Moderna shots arrived in Taipei on Sunday amid an outbreak that has been worsened by Taiwan's lack of jabs.

American-led efforts to shore up security in Asia, including in the East and South China seas where the U.S. has key treaty allies, have been characterized by a notably collective tone.

During an eight-day visit to Europe last week, Biden secured unprecedented commitments from allies at the G7, NATO and European Union. All of those released statements seeking to deter China's policies in areas including human rights abuses in Xinjiang, the quashing of democratic freedoms in Hong Kong, as well as the unilateral erosion of the status quo in its surrounding waters.

However, Tuesday's Taiwan Strait transit, while keeping up the multi-domain pressure on the Chinese government, is far from guaranteed to produced results, analysts say.

Following U.S.-led communiques with European allies last week, China responded by renewing its near-daily warplane activity near Taiwan. In the span of three days between June 15 and 17, the PLA dispatched 36 fighter jets, reconnaissance planes and nuclear-capable bombers into Taiwan's defensive airspace.

Taiwan's political status remains among China's most sensitive topics. It has warned the U.S. and its allies that Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang are issues that brook no external challenges—and its growing military might is making its assertive pronouncements increasingly difficult to ignore.

U.S. Navy Destroyer In Live Fire Drills
The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur fires a 5-inch gun during a gunnery exercise in the South China Sea on May 29, 2021. U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Zenaida Roth