U.S. Navy Conducts First Taiwan Strait Transit of Biden Administration

mccain fonops
Courtesy USN

Published Feb 4, 2021 2:19 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Thursday, a U.S. Navy destroyer transited the Taiwan Strait for the first time in 2021 - and the first time under the Biden administration. The freedom of navigation operation "demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific," the Navy said in a statement. 

The Arleigh Burke-class USS John S. McCain conducted the operation. "The United States military will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows," 7th Fleet said. 

Since the founding of Taiwan's current government in the 1940s, the communist-ruled mainland has claimed the island as its own. Current Chinese President Xi Jinping has gone a step further, threatening to use force (if necessary) to bring the island under China's rule. Chinese military aircraft routinely cross into Taiwanese airspace, demonstrating China's readiness to challenge Taiwan's de facto independence. 

The United States does not formally recognize Taiwan as an independent nation, but maintains quiet informal ties with Taipei and periodically authorizes sales of American military equipment. The U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard transits through the Taiwan Strait are widely viewed as statements of support for the status quo

China views the "Taiwan question" as a matter of "safeguarding state sovereignty and territorial integrity," and its "One China" doctrine is a bedrock principle of Chinese foreign policy. U.S. Navy operations in the Taiwan Strait often draw sharp criticism from Beijing, which treats the transits as "provocations."

In a press conference Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin noted the McCain's transit, but he avoided directly criticizing the new administration in Washington. 

"China paid close attention to and monitored from start to end the passage of the US military vessel through the Taiwan Strait," Wenbin said. "China will continue to stay on high alert and is ready to respond to all threats and provocations at any time, and will resolutely safeguard its national sovereignty and territorial integrity. We hope the US side will play a constructive role for regional peace and stability, rather than the opposite."