China warns US after warships sail through Taiwan Strait

Taiwan the ‘most important and sensitive issue’ between US and China, Beijing says

The USS Decatur:  In September, a Chinese destroyer came within a few hundred metres of colliding with the destroyer in the South China Sea. Photograph: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

The USS Decatur: In September, a Chinese destroyer came within a few hundred metres of colliding with the destroyer in the South China Sea. Photograph: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

 

China has warned the United States against ratcheting up military tensions in Asia after two American naval vessels sailed through the Taiwan Strait, the third time it has sent military vessels through the strategic waterway this year.

The transit by a destroyer and a replenishment vessel took place shortly before highly anticipated talks between Xi Jinping and President Donald Trump at the Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires.

“We have expressed our concern to the US side,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular news briefing.

Mr Trump and Mr Xi are due to meet in Argentina on Saturday amid tensions over Taiwan, the South China Sea and an increasingly bitter trade war between the sides.

“The Taiwan issue concerns the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China,” he said, adding that the Taiwan question was the “most important and sensitive issue” in relations between Washington and Beijing.

China regards Taiwan as its sovereign territory and has threatened to invade should the self-ruled island of 23 million people try to declare independence.

The Taiwan Strait is a major regional flashpoint. The waterway, which is 160km wide, is divided down the middle between Taiwan and China and shipping is allowed to pass through the strait.

Tensions between the two militaries have been running high as the US challenges China’s territorial claims to large tracts of the South China Sea.

In September, a Chinese destroyer came within a few hundred metres of colliding with the destroyer USS Decatur in the South China Sea.

‘Free and open Indo-Pacific’

The US Pacific fleet said in a statement the Taiwan Strait transit demonstrated the US commitment to “a free and open Indo-Pacific”.

“The US navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows,” it said.

Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party, which leans towards independence for the island, suffered heavy losses in mayoral and local elections in a blow for president Tsai Ing-wen. The nationalist Kuomintang, which is currently in opposition, won several major cities, which has been welcomed by Beijing.

Mr Xi and Mr Trump are expected to focus on a trade conflict between the two countries, but there are a number of difficult issues to deal with including China’s claims in the South China Sea and US sanctions.

Mr Trump has threatened to impose tariffs on all Chinese imports unless progress is made towards a deal on revised terms of trade.

Mr Geng urged the US to abide by the “one China” policy and “properly handle Taiwan-related issues so as to avoid undermining China-US relations and the peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait”.