In a move that has further exacerbated ongoing geopolitical tensions, United States and Canadian warships sailed through the Taiwan Strait. The transit occurred following remarks from President Joe Biden over the weekend, in which he expressed the United States’ commitment to defending Taiwan in the event of an attack by China. This naval passage has significant implications and adds another layer of complexity to the strained relations between the United States, Canada, and China.
The US Navy’s participation in this passage was marked by the presence of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Higgins, which conducted what was described as a “routine Taiwan Strait transit” by US Navy spokesperson Lt. Mark Langford. This passage wasn’t unilateral; it was done in cooperation with the Royal Canadian Navy Halifax-class frigate HMCS Vancouver.
What’s crucial to understand is that these transits through the Taiwan Strait are not just a matter of routine naval activity; they have important geopolitical implications. These transits are often interpreted as demonstrations of the United States’ and its allies’ commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. They serve as a show of solidarity against any potential Chinese aggression in the region.
This recent transit, on Tuesday, marked the second time in just over three weeks that a US Navy warship undertook this voyage. On August 28, the guided-missile cruisers USS Antietam and USS Chancellorsville conducted a similar passage. This increase in naval activity can be partly attributed to developments in the US-China relationship.
The United States has been paying closer attention to Taiwan in recent times, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in early August further emphasizing the importance of the island. Since her visit, there has been a noticeable surge in the number of Chinese military ships and submarines around Taiwan, as reported by a US defense official.
Despite the United States referring to the transit as “routine,” it comes at a time when President Biden, in an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes,” indicated that he would use US troops to defend Taiwan if China were to attempt an invasion. This statement by the President has drawn a swift and strong response from Beijing.
The Taiwan Strait, which is a 110-mile (180-kilometer) stretch of water that separates the democratic, self-ruled island of Taiwan from mainland China, has long been a point of contention between the two nations. Beijing claims sovereignty over Taiwan, despite never having controlled the island. China also asserts its sovereignty over the waters of the Taiwan Strait based on its interpretation of international law.
In contrast, the US Navy insists that much of the strait falls within international waters, and it routinely conducts these transits to underscore its position. It’s important to note that the United States and its allies don’t officially recognize Taiwan as a separate country but support its self-rule.
The recent transit by US and Canadian warships is a demonstration of this support and a reaffirmation of the United States’ commitment to defend Taiwan. While these passages are legally conducted in accordance with international law, they remain provocative actions in the eyes of the Chinese government.
The comments by President Biden, once again reiterating the US’s commitment to defending Taiwan, have led to a strong reaction from Beijing. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Mao Ning swiftly condemned the remarks, citing violations of the one-China principle and the provisions of US-China joint communiqués. China views US support for Taiwan as interference in its domestic affairs.
The situation in the Taiwan Strait remains highly sensitive, with increasing military activities and rhetoric on both sides. China’s leader, Xi Jinping, has consistently asserted that reunification with Taiwan is inevitable, and he hasn’t ruled out the use of force to achieve this goal.
As tensions between China and Taiwan reach levels not seen in recent decades, the transit of US and Canadian warships through the Taiwan Strait serves as a stark reminder of the complex and contentious geopolitical dynamics in the Indo-Pacific region. The US’s commitment to defending Taiwan is a powerful signal of its strategic interests and the importance it places on stability and security in the region, while for China, it represents a challenge to its claims and ambitions. The situation in the Taiwan Strait is one that the international community will be closely watching in the coming months, as it has the potential for significant global repercussions.