The U.S. Navy dispatched a guided-missile destroyer and a cargo ship through the Taiwan Strait Monday, the latest in a series of American military maneuvers intended to send a message to Beijing that the United States will continue its support of Taiwan in the face of recent threats by the Chinese government.
The passage through the strait -- shadowed by Chinese warships -- comes hours after President Trump touted “substantial progress” in trade talks with China and announced plans to delay a planned tariff increase on $200 billion in Chinese goods, which had been scheduled to go into effect next week.
"USS Stethem (DDG 63) and USNS Cesar Chavez (T-AKE-14) conducted a routine Taiwan Strait transit on Feb. 25 (local time), in accordance with international law,” Lt. Cmdr. Tim Gorman, a spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, told Fox News in an email. “The ships' transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.
He added: “The U.S. Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows."
The passage from south to north in the Taiwan Strait marked the fourth time since October that U.S. naval vessels had sailed through the strait, according to a U.S. defense official. Earlier this month, two U.S. warships also sailed near China’s contested man-made islands in the South China Sea -- islands the Chinese military has fortified with anti-ship and surface-to-air missiles last year.
President Trump’s former defense secretary, Jim Mattis, had warned his top admiral in the Pacific to make sure each passage near mainland China or Beijing’s contested features in the South China Sea should have a “purpose,” officials familiar with the discussions told Fox News.
Mattis often was seen by the administration as the “good cop” in dealing with China as the president took a more hardline approach, especially with respect to trade. Trump’s new acting defense chief, Patrick Shanahan, told top military and civilian leaders on his first day on the job the focus would be “China, China, China.”
In a tweet Sunday, Trump said relations with China were improving.
“I am pleased to report that the U.S. has made substantial progress in our trade talks with China on important structural issues including intellectual property protection, technology transfer, agriculture, services, currency, and many other issues,” he said.
Trump also said he would host China’s President Xi Jinping next month at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla.
Speaking to the nation’s governors in Washington Sunday night, Trump said the U.S. is “doing very well with China.”
“We're going to have some very big news over the next week or two… we put ourselves into a position of strength for the first time in about 35 years or probably a lot more than that," the president added.
In early January, Xi warned Taiwan “must and will be” reunited with China and refused to rule out using force to bring it back under mainland China’s control. Xi’s speech marked 40 years since China’s pivot away from military confrontation between Beijing and Taiwan.
Days later, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen called for the international community to take China’s threats “seriously.”
Earlier this month, the commander for all American forces in the Pacific told a Senate panel he could benefit from new weapons to deal with the rising military threat from China – the kind of land-based missiles currently banned by a decades-long arms control treaty between Russia and the U.S.