U.S. Navy Destroyer Sails Through Taiwan Strait Again As Beijing Protests

An American destroyer has sailed through the waters between China and Taiwan for the third time this year, amid fresh protests from the People's Liberation Army.

USS John Finn, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, conducted a "routine Taiwan Strait transit" on Wednesday local time in accordance with international law, the United States 7th Fleet said in a statement online.

The operation "demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific," the notice read. "The United States military will continue to fly, sail, and operate anywhere international law allows."

The announcement was accompanied by images of an MH-60R Sea Hawk taking off from the deck of the U.S. Navy warship, whose presence drew immediate protest by the Chinese military.

Zhang Chunhui, a spokesperson for the PLA's Eastern Theater Command headquartered in Nanjing, Jiangsu, issued a statement calling the transit a "publicity stunt."

"The action by the American destroyer sends the wrong signal, deliberately interferes in and damages regional affairs and harms peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait," he added.

Zhang, a Chinese air force colonel, said the U.S. vessel was "followed and monitored" throughout its journey.

Taiwan's defense ministry said Thursday it noticed no irregularities in the area during the southerly transit of USS John Finn, which is part of the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group.

Its passage through the strait—just 80 miles wide at its narrowest point—is the third such operation under the administration of President Joe Biden, and follows transits by USS John S. McCain and USS Curtis Wilbur on February 4 and 24, respectively.

U.S. Navy Warship Transits Taiwan Strait Again
An MH-60R Sea Hawk prepares to land on the flight deck of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John Finn on March 10, 2021. Jason Waite/U.S. Navy

According to Collin Koh, a maritime specialist at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, the U.S. Navy's use of the Taiwan Strait was a matter of practicality.

He told Newsweek last month that it would cost more time and fuel if American warships joining up with other U.S. forces in the region were to take a longer route around Taiwan for the sake of avoiding the sensitive waters.

However, Koh noted the Navy's announcements of operations in the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea were also a response to increased PLA activity in the region, particularly near self-governing Taiwan, which Beijing claims is part of Chinese territory.

According to Koh's tally of publicly available data, the U.S. Navy announced 10 freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea in 2020 and has added two more since Biden took office this year.

On Wednesday, the Department of Defense released its annual report detailing its freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea, listing the types of maritime claims and requirements the Navy was challenging.

U.S. Navy Warship Transits Taiwan Strait Again
File photo: The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John Finn conducts routine operations on March 10, 2021. The U.S. Navy warship was the third American military vessel to sail through the Taiwan Strait this year. Jason Waite/U.S. Navy