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US warship sails through Taiwan Strait amid heightened China tensions
[TAIPEI] A US warship passed through the sensitive Taiwan Strait on Wednesday, the US and Taiwan militaries said, following heightened tensions between China and Taiwan that has seen Taiwanese air force jets scramble to intercept Chinese fighters.
The ship sailed north through the waterway and was monitored by Taiwan's armed forces, the island's defence ministry said in a statement on Thursday.
It described the sailing as an "ordinary mission", saying there was no cause for alarm.
Anthony Junco, a spokesman for the US Seventh Fleet, said the ship was the guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell, which conducted "a routine Taiwan Strait transit March 25 (local time) in accordance with international law".
"The ship's transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. The US Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows," he said.
Taiwan is China's most sensitive territorial and diplomatic issue and Beijing has never ruled out the use of force to bring the island under its control. The narrow Taiwan Strait that separates the island from China is a frequent source of tension.
In recent weeks China's air force has carried out several exercises close to Taiwan, causing Taiwan's mostly US-equipped military to scramble fighters to intercept and warn away the Chinese aircraft.
Taiwan has called the Chinese drills provocative and has called on China to pay more attention to fighting the spread of the coronavirus rather than menacing Taiwan.
The United States, like most countries, has no official relations with Taiwan, but is the island's most important international supporter and main source of arms.
In January, another US warship sailed through the Taiwan Strait less than a week after President Tsai Ing-wen won re-election by a landslide on a platform of standing up to China.
Ms Tsai visited a military base on Tuesday and again warned of the threat from China during the virus outbreak.
"Everyone knows that although at present there is an intense epidemic situation, the Chinese Communist's military aircraft continue to harass Taiwan; their threat to Taiwan and regional security has not gone down," she said.