The US 7th Fleet, headed by the destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur, carried out a “routine Taiwan Strait transit” on Thursday. But a spokesman for the Chinese military criticised the US destroyer for the mission, saying they threatened the stability of the South China Sea.
Speaking on Thursday, the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) Eastern Theatre Command spokesman said the USS Curtis Wilbur was tracked by Chinese forces as it sailed through the Taiwan Strait.
In a warning to the US, the spokesman said: “The move artificially creates risk factors in the Taiwan Strait, deliberately undermines regional peace and stability, we are firmly opposed to this.
“The troops in the war zone are always on high alert and ready to respond to all threats and provocations.”
China regards Taiwan as a breakaway province to be reunited with the mainland.
READ MORE: South China Sea: Britain’s HMS Queen Elizabeth enters disputed waters at time of high risk
Ahead of China’s statement, the US Navy’s 7th Fleet rubbished claims they were acting illegal and insisted the transit was in accordance with international law.
They said on Wednesday: “The ship’s transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.
“The United States military will continue to fly, sail, and operate anywhere international law allows.”
The 7th Fleet also carried out joint-computer exercises with Japan’s Navy recently, which concluded today.
It comes after Beijing resurfaced fears of war with Taiwan after flying a squadron of fighter jets and bombers near the Pratas Islands.
The Taiwanese Defence Ministry claimed to have spotted 11 Chinese jets on Saturday, including eight fighter aircraft, an anti-submarine aircraft and two nuclear-capable H-6 bombers.
In response on Saturday, a spokesman for the US State Department reaffirmed previous calls for China “to cease its military, diplomatic and economic pressure against Taiwan.”
He added Beijing should “instead engage in meaningful dialogue with Taiwan’s democratically elected representatives.”
US President Joe Biden, in his first phone call as head of state with Chinese Chairman Xi Jinping, told Beijing of his concerns over Taiwan.
In a statement published by the White House after the conversation on February 10, Mr Biden said: “I spoke today with President Xi to offer good wishes to the Chinese people for lunar new year.
“I also shared concerns about Beijing’s economic practices, human rights abuses, and coercion of Taiwan.”
At the start of the year, Mr Xi told PLA troops to be ready for war “at all times”.
Bonji Ohara, a senior fellow at the Tokyo-based Sasakawa Peace Foundation, also spoke recently about the importance of the South China Sea.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency on Thursday, he said: “First, South China Sea is important for the strategic patrol of Chinese SSBN [nuclear ballistic missile submarine], which needs to enter west Pacific Ocean for its nuclear deterrence against the US.”
The expert also suggested the disputed waters serve as a buffer zone for China if and when “the US conducts military attack against mainland China.”
He then said: “China recognises the South China Sea problem and that it can control bilateral rivalry with the US, but is scared that the US and its allies may contain Beijing from the Pacific Ocean, South China Sea and the Indian Ocean.”