K J M Varma
China on Wednesday accused the US of resorting to provocative moves in the Taiwan Strait and undermining peace and stability in the region after an American naval ship sailed through the waterway to demonstrate Washington's commitment to a "free and open Indo-Pacific".
The US Navy's 7th Fleet said that the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur had conducted a "routine Taiwan Strait transit" on Tuesday in accordance with international law.
The Taiwan Strait is a 180-kilometer wide channel separating China and Taiwan, which Beijing claims as part of its mainland.
"The ship's transit through Taiwan Strait demonstrates the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific," the Navy said in a statement.
"The US military will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows," the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post quoted the US Navy statement as saying.
The US military planes and warships periodically fly and sail through the Taiwan Strait and the disputed South China Sea to assert freedom of navigation in areas claimed by China. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan have counter claims over the South China Sea.
As the US destroyer sailed through the Taiwan Strait, the Chinese Navy rushed its ships and closely monitored and followed it, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a media briefing here on Wednesday.
"The US vessels recently have come to Taiwan Strait to flex their muscles in provocation and a deliberate move to disrupt and undermine the regional situation and harm peace and stability across the Taiwan strait," Zhao said.
"We firmly reject that and determined to safeguard our sovereignty and territorial integrity. We urge the US to play a constructive role for regional peace and stability," he said.
The People's Liberation Army (PLA) Eastern Theatre Command Spokesman Senior Colonel Zhang Chunhui in a statement called the latest passage through the strait a "provocation".
"The US move sends the wrong signals to Taiwanese independence-leaning forces, deliberately disrupting and sabotaging the regional situation and endangering peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait," he said.
China is increasingly getting concerned over the US policy towards Taiwan, an estranged island that fiercely asserts its independence.
China, for its part, vows to integrate it with the Chinese mainland and stepped up military manoeuvres in the area. Beijing also firmly opposes the present Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who is a strong advocate of Taiwan's independence.
The previous US President, Donald Trump, reconfigured the US policy expanding America's material and military support to Taiwan, ignoring Beijing's criticism that it is a violation of 'One-China' policy. Trump's successor Joe Biden continued that policy much to the chagrin of China.
Analysts said the US Navy transits through the waterway were becoming the norm, as were warnings from the PLA in response, raising the risk of conflict given the tensions and lack of communications between the two sides.
Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at the Renmin University of China in Beijing, said that both the PLA and the US military recognised that the Taiwan Strait could become "a dangerous place" if tensions continued to rise.
"The risk is intensifying, as almost all communication channels have been stuck since that first phone call between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Biden (in February) and the China-US meeting in Anchorage, Alaska," he told the Post, referring to the heated talks between officials of both the countries in March.
"But it seems like the two militaries are using another approach . with routine transits and warnings becoming the norm since then," he said.
Shi said the fact that the response came from the PLA rather than the Chinese defence ministry meant "the situation is not so bad".
The PLA's Eastern Theatre Command is responsible for the east coast and the strait that separates mainland China from Taiwan.