United States warships pass through Taiwan Strait amid China tensions

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Monday was the second time in the space of three months that American warships had conducted so-called "freedom of navigation" exercises in the Taiwan Strait, a 180-kilometre wide stretch of water separating the Chinese mainland and the self-ruled democratic island.

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.

Premier William Lai (賴清德) yesterday said Taiwan respects the US' right to exercise freedom of navigation in global seas, after a reporter asked at a Legislative Yuan news conference whether the United States gave prior notification to Taiwan of the activity.

"Cruising through the strait is not new, but it is a strong signal that the US will be on Taiwan's side in case of a crisis between Taipei and Beijing", said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, who teaches U.S.

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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 worldwide law.

China has become increasingly aggressive in the Taiwan Strait towards Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province and not a separate country.

"The US Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere global law allows", he said.

The Pentagon says Washington has sold Taiwan more than 15 billion dollars in weaponry since 2010. "Taiwan might talk up its asymmetric warfare capabilities, but without the US, Taiwan would be dead". Since the election of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen from a pro-independence party in 2016, Beijing has cut off formal communication with Taipei and stepped up military exercises in the area. That incident followed a string of US Air Force bomber flights through the disputed East and South China Seas, flights Beijing characterised as "provocative". China has also constructed artificial islands atop submerged reefs in the South China Sea and placed weapons and aircraft on them. Despite this, Washington has kept informal relations with the island nation after severing diplomatic ties with it in 1979. The U.S. acknowledges China's stance but provides Taiwan with defense equipment and opposes reunification by force.

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