By Idrees Ali
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States sent a Navy ship through the Taiwan Strait on Friday, rekindling one of a growing number of flashpoints in Washington’s relationship with Beijing.
The U.S. military has increased the frequency of its transport movements through the strategic waterway in the face of opposition from China.
Friday’s voyage risks further raising bilateral tensions stoked by a bitter trade war, but will likely be viewed by self-ruled Taiwan as a sign of support from the administration of President Donald Trump.
This month China denounced arms sales from the United States to Taiwan and in July said it was ready for war if there was any move by Taiwan towards independence.
Beijing has been ramping up pressure to assert its sovereignty over the island, which it considers a wayward province.
Commander Reann Mommsen, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet, said the ship’s transit through the Strait – a 180 km-wide (112-mile) waterway separating Taiwan from China – “demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific”.
Mommsen identified the vessel as the Green Bay, an amphibious transport dock ship.
Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said in a statement that the island’s military had a full grasp of the situation in the Strait and closely monitored it. It made no direct mention of the U.S. ship.
Washington has no formal ties with Taiwan but is bound by law to help defend the island nation and is its main source of arms.
The United States this month approved a possible $8 billion sale of F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan, which recently unveiled its largest defence spending increase in more than a decade.
The Green Bay’s transit also takes place against the backdrop of demonstrations in Hong Kong against a perceived erosion of freedoms in the former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Beijing has reacted sharply to the protests and has accused foreign countries, including the United States, of fomenting unrest.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali. Additional reporting by Yimou Lee in Taipei; and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Richard Borsuk and John Stonestreet)