China Protests After U.S. Navy Sails Through Taiwan Strait Again

(Bloomberg) -- China protested the latest transit through the Taiwan Strait by American warships, warning the U.S. not to undermine relations between the two countries.

“China has been closely monitoring from start to end the passage by the U.S. warships through the Taiwan Strait,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular news briefing in Beijing on Monday. “China has lodged stern representations with the U.S.”

Two U.S. vessels entered Taiwanese waters off the island’s southwest coast heading north on Sunday, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense said in a statement Monday. The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the patrol, identified the vessels as the Navy destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur and the Coast Guard cutter Bertholf.

The patrol comes days before a scheduled visit to Beijing by U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, as talks on a trade agreement continue between the world’s two largest economies. Chinese Vice Premier Liu He is set to lead a delegation to Washington starting on April 3.

The U.S. has over the past year increased its naval transits through the 180-kilometer (110 mile) wide strait that separates Taiwan from the Chinese mainland. Sail-bys in January and February also drew protests from China, which considers the island a province.

On Monday, China urged the U.S. to avoid undermining ties between the world’s two biggest economies and support peace and stability in the strait, Geng said.

The White House also gave tacit approval to Taiwan’s request this month to buy more than 60 F-16 fighter jets, Bloomberg News reported, leading China to complain and putting a new strain on U.S.-China ties ahead of the high-level visits.

It wasn’t clear whether a jet sale would be used as a bargaining chip in the trade negotiations, or just part of the Trump administration’s renewed focus on the island, which is viewed as a buffer against President Xi Jinping’s expanding influence in Asia.

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