US warship sails through Taiwan Strait in message to China

For the first time since September, a U.S. warship has transited the Taiwan Strait.

The move by the USS Chancellorsville, a guided-missile cruiser, is likely to irk China, which views the island of Taiwan as a breakaway province.

"Guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG 62) conducted a routine Taiwan Strait transit Nov. 12 (local time) in accordance with international law. The ship's transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” said Cmdr. Reann Mommsen, spokesperson for the U.S. 7th fleet.

“The U.S. Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows," he added.

The transit comes as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley visits Japan for a meeting with Prime Minister Shinzō Abe to help repair diplomatic relations with South Korea after a recent spat over intelligence sharing between Tokyo and Seoul.

"All interactions between [Chinese] ships and aircraft were professional and routine” during the transit, a Navy official told Fox News.

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The USS Chancellorsville, pictured here earlier this month, conducted the transit in a move likely to irk China.<br data-cke-eol="1">

The USS Chancellorsville, pictured here earlier this month, conducted the transit in a move likely to irk China.<br data-cke-eol="1"> (U.S. Navy)

Defense Secretary Mark Esper is set to begin on Wednesday a four-nation Asia tour with stops in South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam, according to the Pentagon.

The Taiwan Strait transit was the ninth by the U.S. Navy this year.

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The last one occurred in late September, when the USS Antietam, another guided-missile cruiser conducted a similar transit.

That month Esper cautioned European nations from getting too cozy with China, which has been accused of intellectual property theft for decades and charged by the U.S. Justice Department to employ spies to steal state secrets in the United States, including sensitive military technology.

"The more dependent a country becomes on Chinese investment and trade, the more susceptible they are to coercion and retribution when they act outside of Beijing's wishes," Esper said in a speech at the Royal United Services Institute, a think tank in London.

Despite rising tensions in the Middle East, the Pentagon under Esper’s leadership has been attempting to pivot away from the region and toward China and Russia.

"China's technology theft for military gain is staggering," Esper said in London.

“Strategic competition with China will be the primary concern for U.S. national security for years to come,” Randall G. Schriver, assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs, told reporters at the Pentagon in May.

“We certainly don't seek conflict with China and it doesn't preclude cooperation where our interests align,” Schriver added.

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Asked about Taiwan Strait transits, Schriver said the strait is international water and “we transit it as we see fit.”

The transit by a US warship comes after Chinese authorities have cracked down on pro-Democracy protesters in Hong Kong, arresting more than 3,000 since June, according to the Associated Press.