U.S. Navy ships travel all over the world, but some of these excursions are not seen as innocent by other countries. In the past few weeks, for instance, U.S Navy ships have passed through the Taiwan Strait, which China sees as an act of provocation. After the fall of Kabul and the gleeful insults from Beijing heckling leaders in Washington, D.C., this activity by the Navy has taken on greater meaning and signals a future point of tension between the U.S. and China.
U.S. Navy ships use the Taiwan Strait route regularly, and the Chinese government is always quick to condemn their movement. While U.S. Navy ships are using international waters and do not infringe on China’s sovereignty, Beijing sees Taiwan as a renegade district that should be reunited with the mainland. The collaboration the U.S. has with Taiwan is the most significant block for any use of force by China in an attempt to take over what they see as an unlawful secession.
The Complexity of the US-China Relationship
The U.S. position in the region is complex. Since the Nixon era, the U.S. has maintained a relationship with China and has an economic relations office in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan.
However, only a few nations recognize Taiwan’s sovereignty because China will not maintain diplomatic relations with any nation that recognizes Taiwan’s independence. At the same time, the U.S. is committed to protect Taiwan and maintains a military force that has only one goal: to thwart a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.
China Condemns Recent Movement of US Ships through Taiwan Strait
In June, the USS Curtis Wilbur, part of the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet, did a routine pass through the Taiwan Strait. Similarly, two U.S. ships passed through the Taiwan Strait in late August, according to ANI News. One was the U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd, and the other was the U.S. Coast Guard’s National Security Cutter Munro.
In regard to the ships’ movements, The People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theatre Command commented: “[It] fully shows that the United States is the greatest creator of risks for regional security, and we are resolutely opposed to this.”
Why Should We Pay Attention to US Navy Movements Near Taiwan?
U.S. Navy movements through the Taiwan Strait are not new, so why does this activity need more attention now? As Reuters reported, the situation is different because China is escalating its provocation. It seems that the stakes are higher now in the region.
Just before the passage of the USS Curtis Wilbur, Taiwan had previously reported to the press that no less than 28 Chinese Air Force aircraft – including fighters and nuclear-capable bombers – had entered Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ). To date, that is the largest reported invasion of Taiwanese airspace.
The South China Sea Will Need More Careful Monitoring in the Future
The South China Sea will be an area that will require close attention in the future. It has often been a clash point between China, American allies and U.S. forces.
Maritime policy needs to be clear since so much is at stake. In a July 2020 press statement, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, declared: “The United States champions a free and open Indo-Pacific. Today we are strengthening U.S. policy in a vital, contentious part of that region — the South China Sea.
“In the South China Sea, we seek to preserve peace and stability, uphold freedom of the seas in a manner consistent with international law, maintain the unimpeded flow of commerce, and oppose any attempt to use coercion or force to settle disputes. We share these deep and abiding interests with our many allies and partners who have long endorsed a rules-based international order. These shared interests have come under unprecedented threat from the People’s Republic of China.”
China’s Army Is Also a Growing Threat
The expanding capabilities of the Chinese army is the main topic of many policy papers on the situation. The military threat is clear and unequivocal; the only question is the desire in Beijing to open up a front after decades of isolationist policies.
A Department of Defense report notes: “As tensions in Asia rise and the security situation becomes more complex, there is a growing need for credible, capable regional institutions that provide forums for frank discussion on difficult issues, facilitate practical multilateral security cooperation, and build trust.
“Engagement with regional institutions such as the East Asia Summit, ARF [ASEAN Regional Forum], and particularly the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus) provide the Department an opportunity to take active steps to highlight the importance of peaceful resolution of disputes and emphasize the need for adherence to international rules and standards.
“Within these venues, the Department is candid with regional counterparts in raising our concerns about excessive maritime claims and the means through which they pursue them and their territorial claims. We also consistently raise the importance of exercising restraint, building trust and transparency, and behaving responsibly at sea and in the air….
“Finally, the Department fully supports countries pursuing multilateral agreements and arrangements to enhance security in maritime Asia. In 2002, ASEAN and China signed the DoC [Declaration of Conduct] in an attempt to lower tensions in the region. Although the DoC is not legally binding, the Department of Defense continues to support ongoing efforts to implement the DoC, and for ASEAN and China to reach agreement on a meaningful CoC as part of a multifaceted approach to lower tensions and prolong peace and stability in the region.”
More US Commitment Is Necessary to Maintain an Image of Strength to China
After the developments in Afghanistan this summer, U.S.-China relations appear to be in a new phase. The time has come for stronger language and more U.S. commitment in the South China Sea. Anything else signals weakness in the eyes of China’s leaders.