US Navy warships just rocked the Taiwan Strait in rare move, turning up the pressure on China

Ryan Pickrell
  • The US Navy put on a show of force on China's doorstep Monday, sending two warships through the tense Taiwan Strait.
  • The destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur and cruiser USS Antietam were shadowed by Chinese naval vessels as they transited the strait.
  • This rare move comes at a time of heightened tensions between the two military powers and is likely to anger Beijing despite it being within the bounds of international law.

Two US Navy warships have sailed through the Taiwan Strait, Taiwan's Ministry of National Defence said in a statement Monday.

The Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur and Ticonderoga-class cruiser USS Antietam traversed the strait Monday, US Pacific Fleet confirmed to Business Insider. The US Navy conducted a similar operation in July, sending the destroyers USS Mustin and USS Benfold through the tense waterway.

The pair of US Navy warships conducted "a routine Taiwan Strait transit in accordance with international law," Pacific Fleet spokesperson Lt. j.g. Rachel McMarr told BI, adding that the purpose of the mission was to demonstrate "the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific" and to remind others that "the US Navy will continue to fly, sail, and operate anywhere international law allows."

The latest move comes at a time of heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing, which have been fighting over a variety of issues ranging from trade to territorial disputes.

China, concerned that US military actions around Taiwan will embolden pro-independence factions on the self-ruled island, has bolstered its military presence in the area this past year. The Chinese military has sailed its aircraft carrier and accompanying escort ships through the Taiwan Strait and conducted "encirclement" exercises involving fighters, bombers and other military assets throughout the year.

Beijing perceives Taiwan as a breakaway province and has threatened to take military action if Taiwan attempts to declare independence.

The US Navy's latest challenge to China comes just a few weeks after a showdown in the South China Sea, in which a Chinese destroyer nearly collided with a US Navy warship during an "unsafe" encounter following a routine freedom-of-navigation operation near the contested Spratly Islands. That incident followed a string of US Air Force bomber flights through the disputed East and South China Seas, flights Beijing characterised as "provocative."

Chinese warships shadowed the US Navy ships through the Taiwan Strait Monday, but the Chinese ships remained at a safe distance.