US-flagged ship sails through Taiwan Strait as tensions rise

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The guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain transited the strait – where tensions between China and the US are high – between Taiwan and China as part of regular patrols.

The US-flag ship last travelled through the strait on 29 September and local military authorities had alerted Taiwan as an indicator of its presence.

The lead-up to the missions has been tense with warnings from Beijing that a US move would only inflame tensions in the region and could spark a dangerous military confrontation.

It is unclear whether this third convoy of warships passing through the strait since mid-September was a response to Beijing’s latest warnings or a reflection of US positioning to counter Beijing’s military advances.

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China claimed Taiwan as a rebel province before civil war broke out between the communists and nationalists in 1949, and Beijing considers the island part of its territory awaiting reunification.

Taiwan attempted to allay fears the Chinese ruling Communist party was behind the patrols, with Taiwan’s vice-president, Vincent Siew, emphasising the transit had been made voluntarily.

“Our military also asked the USS Lake Champlain to leave the passage unnoticed,” Siew told reporters on Monday.

China has become increasingly militarised in the maritime territories it claims through air and sea.

In September, its sole aircraft carrier sailed within about 90 miles of Taiwan, a trip which prompted US president Donald Trump to up the ante and assert the US would not stand idly by as it pledged to continue to monitor China’s movements and continue operating freedom of navigation patrols in the region.

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While concerns remain that one of the two large US-based aircraft carriers, the USS Ronald Reagan, is about to embark on another freedom of navigation patrol, naval officers have been reticent to publicly discuss the details.

China regularly protests such patrols, saying the repeated US steps to monitor and mark Chinese claims in the South China Sea is provocative and detrimental to strategic stability in the region.

The waters surrounding the South China Sea, including the Spratly Islands, are the target of a rumbling territorial dispute between China and the US-backed Philippines and are thought to hold around $5tn (£3.6tn) in global trade.

About 80% of China’s trade travels through the South China Sea.

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