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

Jul 10, 2018

USS Mustin
Credit PH1 ROBERT MCRILL / 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.”

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

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.