South China Sea Dispute: China says US undermines peace after ship sails through strait

The USS Barry travels through the Taiwan Strait [Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Molly M Crawford/US Navy handout]
The USS Barry travels through the Taiwan Strait [Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Molly M Crawford/US Navy handout]

China said on Thursday the United States was seriously undermining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait after a US Navy destroyer sailed through the waters amid escalating tensions between Beijing and Taipei, Zhang Chunhui, a spokesman for China’s eastern theatre command, said in a statement that the Chinese military followed and monitored the USS Barry as the destroyer travelled through the strait on Wednesday.

Zhang accused the US of sending “misleading signals” to people in Taiwan, state media reported, China considers Taiwan, a self-ruled island and one of the region’s most vibrant democracies, part of its territory and has not ruled out the use of force in order to achieve its aims. It has become increasingly assertive since the election of President Tsai Ing-wen in 2016, and in recent weeks has flown a number of sorties around the island, prompting Taiwan to scramble its air force.

The ship’s transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific, the US Pacific Fleet said in a statement. “The US Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.” While the US has no formal ties with Taiwan it is bound by law to defend the island, Beijing has accused Washington and Taipei of “collusion” towards the island declaring formal independence. The White House has indicated it wants to sell sophisticated military equipment, including MQ-9 drones and a coastal defensive missile system, to Taiwan, while Tsai has said the island wants to modernize its military and improve its capacity for asymmetric warfare.

Zhang said the US should stop its provocative words and actions in the Taiwan Strait, adding the Chinese military will resolutely defend the country’s territorial integrity and maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan’s defence ministry said in a separate statement that the USS Barry sailed in a northerly direction through the strait and that its forces also monitored the warship, adding that the situation was “as normal”. It was the 10th such transit by a US naval vessel this year, with the most recent a destroyer on August 31.

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