A U.S. Navy warship sailed through the Taiwan Strait on Thursday, for the first time since President Joe Biden took power.
The USS John S. McCain, a guided-missile destroyer based in Japan, conducted a routine journey through the channel, which divides China and Taiwan, complying with international law, Lt. Joe Keiley, a spokesperson for the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet, said in statement.
The ship’s transit demonstrated the U.S. “commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” he said, adding that the military would “continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.”
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Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told a media briefing that his country had been “closely” monitoring the warship.
“China will continue to maintain a high level of alert at all times, respond to all threats and provocations at all times, and resolutely defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said. “It is hoped that the U.S. will play a constructive role for regional peace and stability, not the other way around.”
The journey comes ahead of Biden’s highly anticipated foreign policy address at the Department of State later Thursday, in which he is expected to outline his vision for global challenges.
Tensions between the United States and China ramped up under the Trump administration, which increased support for Taiwan through arms sales and visits by senior U.S. officials. They were already heightened by disagreements over the South China Sea, Hong Kong, the coronavirus and trade.
In one of his last acts as secretary of state, Mike Pompeo lifted long-standing restrictions on contacts between American and Taiwanese officials, a move that angered Beijing and prompted a furious reaction in Chinese state media.
China views Taiwan, which has a population of 24 million people, as an renegade breakaway province. When the Chinese civil war between the communists and nationalists ended in 1949 with the former triumphant, the latter set up a rival government in Taipei, to rule over the island off the southeastern coast of mainland China.
Since the 1970s, the U.S. had officially only recognized Beijing and the State Department said on Wednesday its support of a “one-China” policy over Taiwan has not changed. Under the policy the U.S. recognizes the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal government and does not have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
However, Pompeo’s successor, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, voiced a strong “bipartisan commitment to Taiwan,” in his Senate confirmation hearing last week.
“Part of that commitment is making sure that Taiwan has the ability to defend itself against aggression. And that is a commitment that will absolutely endure in a Biden administration,” he said.
He added that there was “no doubt” China posed the most significant challenge to the U.S. of any nation.