Taiwan Strait challenge by US warship riles China

Following USS Shiloh's 'routine Taiwan Strait transit', China said the US must respect its territorial integrity for good bilateral relations


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A US warship went through the Taiwan Strait (formerly known as the Formosa Strait or the Strait of Formosa) separating China and Taiwan on Thursday. The USS Shiloh, a US warship equipped with missiles, passing through this maritime zone is nothing less than a warning to China.

The warship equipped with guided missiles headed north through the strategic waterway in a demonstration that the American administration has called “the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific”.

International observers are seeing this as a US demonstration in support of President Tsai Ing-wen, who spoke in favour of the island’s independence in her campaign for the recently concluded election in Taiwan. Anti-China Tsai won again in Taiwan’s presidential election held last Saturday.

A day after Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Shiloh conducted a “routine Taiwan Strait transit”, spokesman of the foreign ministry of China Geng Shuang said that the Chinese military had an eye on the US warship as it passed through the stretch close to the country. The spokesperson added, “The US should avoid interference in Taiwan-related issues and respect the One China policy. This would also be good for US relations with China.”

“The issue of Taiwan is about China’s territorial integrity, and the most important and sensitive issue for China-US relations,” Geng said.

Hardly disturbed by the Chinese ominous, spokesman for the US 7th Fleet Joe Keiley said the USS Shiloh conducted a “routine Taiwan Strait transit” in a demonstration of “the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific”. He added, “The US Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.”

Taiwan’s defence ministry said the US warship was on a general navigation mission sailing northward from the southwest of the island through the strategic waterway separating Taiwan from mainland China. Taiwan’s military, the statement read, had a “full grasp during the entire process of the neighbouring seas, the air and naval spaces, and other relevant developments, with no abnormalities during the period so all citizens may be at ease”.

This is not the first US warship to transit through the Taiwan Strait. The frequency of such transits has increased in recent years, Beijing’s protests notwithstanding. Last year alone, some or the other US warship passed through the waterway. In November 2019, guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville had sailed through the strait. The US Navy had dubbed that action as a demonstration of “the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific” too.

History of China-Taiwan animus

Taiwan, since its inception, has had troubled relations with China. The Chinese government continues to threaten the island country of military action to reunite Taiwan in its mainland. While China always considered Taiwan to be its part, history does not quite stand in support of the claim. When the Republic of China was founded in 1912, Taiwan was still a colony of Japan. And even before military conflicts began, there were several instances of unrest in Taiwan over cultural, linguistic and economic issues after an influx of mainlanders. Among the treaties signed with the Allied Powers, only that of Cairo in 1943 recognised Taiwan as a part of China, but that pact had no legal validity.

After the end of World War II, the Chinese Civil War resumed between the Chinese Nationalists (Kuomintang), led by Chiang Kai-shek, and the Communist Party of China, led by Mao Tse Tung. Throughout the months of 1949, a series of Chinese Communist offensives led to the capture of its capital Nanjing on 23 April and the subsequent defeat of the Nationalist army on the mainland, and the Communists founded the People’s Republic of China on 1 October.

On 7 December 1949, after the loss of four capitals, Chiang evacuated his Nationalist government to Taiwan and made Taipei the temporary capital of the ROC (also called the “wartime capital” by Chiang Kai-shek).

Some 2 million people, consisting mainly of soldiers, members of the ruling Kuomintang and intellectual and business elites, were evacuated from mainland China to Taiwan at that time, adding to the earlier population of approximately six million. In addition, the ROC government took to Taipei many national treasures and much of China’s gold reserves and foreign currency reserves.

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