A group of Chinese warships led by the country’s sole aircraft carrier entered the top half of the South China Sea on Monday. (Photo Courtesy: Google Maps)

U.S. Sails Warships Through Taiwan Strait in Show of Force to China

(Bloomberg) -- China expressed concern after the U.S. Navy sailed a pair of warships through the Taiwan Strait, the second such show of force since July.

Two U.S. vessels sailed through the Taiwan Strait from waters near Eluanbi, the southern tip of Taiwan island, toward the north Monday, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense said in a statement on its website.

U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesman Commander Nate Christensen said the guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur and the guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam took part in the passage operation “in accordance with international law.”

China “expressed concern” to the U.S. about the transit, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular briefing Tuesday in Beijing. “The Taiwan issue is a matter of China’s territorial integrity and is also the most important and sensitive issue of U.S. and China bilateral relations,” she said, repeating language used after the transit by two U.S. warships in July.

The transit coincides with a period of rising tension between Taiwan and China, which considers the island one of its provinces. Since the election of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen from a pro-independence party in 2016, Beijing has cut off formal communication with Taipei and stepped up military exercises in the area.

“Cruising through the strait is not new, but it is a strong signal that the U.S. will be on Taiwan’s side in case of a crisis between Taipei and Beijing,” said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, who teaches U.S.-China relations at Hong Kong Baptist University. “Taiwan might talk up its asymmetric warfare capabilities, but without the U.S. Taiwan would be dead.”

Tensions have also risen ahead of local elections on the island next month. Taiwan late Monday requested that China refrain from interfering in its elections, saying Beijing should should respect and learn from its democracy.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.