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Pacific News Minute: China Protests After Two U.S. Destroyers Sail Through the Taiwan Strait

U.S. Navy

With a trade war already raising tensions between the United States and China, two American warships probed what may be Beijing’s most sensitive spot over the weekend . . . the Taiwan Strait.

The guided missile destroyers USS Mustin and USS Benfold sailed between Taiwan and the Chinese mainland on Saturday night.

The strait is 110 miles wide and regarded as international waters and, in a statement to USNI News, Pacific Fleet spokesman Captain Charlie Brown portrayed the maneuver as routine.

“U.S. Navy Ships transit between the South China Sea and the East China Sea via the Taiwan Strait,” he said, “and have done so for many years.”

But this was the first passage of the Strait for about a year, and follows a report by Reuters last month, that said the Pentagon planned to conduct periodic transits as a sign of support for Taiwan. 

China treated the passage as a political signal. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunyng said China had “already expressed concerns to the U.S.”

The nationalist Global Times ran an editorial under the head line “U.S. Psychological Game in the Taiwan Strait.”

“We must state,” the editorial read, "the Taiwan issue is related to Chinese sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Credit MC3 Nathan Burke / U.S. Navy / Indo-Pacific Command
U.S. Navy / Indo-Pacific Command
USS Benfold | September 2015

And it’s important to remember that the United States humiliated China in the Taiwan Strait 22 years ago. In 1995, as the pro-independence movement stirred on Taiwan, China conducted a series of missile tests in the waters around the island. In response, President Bill Clinton sent the U.S. Navy – the Aircraft Carrier Strike Group built around USS Nimitz sailed through the Taiwan Strait. China backed down, but immediately began the naval build-up that continues today.

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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