US warship sails Taiwan Strait ahead of presidential inauguration

An MH-60 Sea Hawk helicopter takes off from the USS McCampbell while transiting the Taiwan Strait. (Facebook pic/US Pacific Fleet)

TAIPEI: The US navy said on Thursday it had sailed a guided-missile destroyer through the sensitive Taiwan Strait, a week before Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s inauguration for a second term in office amid rising tensions with China.

China, which considers Taiwan its territory, has been angered by the Trump administration’s strong support for the island, such as increased arms sales. Beijing-Washington ties have also been buffeted by fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

The US Pacific Fleet, in a statement on its Facebook page, said the USS McCampbell had transited the narrow strait that separates Taiwan from mainland China on Wednesday, showing pictures of the ship under way.

Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said the ship had sailed south on what it termed an “ordinary mission”, adding it was continuing in that direction.

Tsai, who will be sworn in for her second and final term next Wednesday, won reelection by a landslide in January, vowing to defend Taiwan’s democracy and stand up to China.

Both China and the US have ramped up military activities near Taiwan in recent months, including regular US sailings through the Taiwan Strait, and regular Chinese air force drills near the island.

Last Friday, Taiwan said a Chinese air force Y-8 aircraft had briefly crossed into Taiwan’s Air Defence Identification Zone, prompting Taiwan jets to warn it to leave.

China operates the Y-8 both as a transport and early warning and electronic warfare aircraft.

Taiwan has denounced the Chinese drills as attempts at intimidation and has told Beijing it should focus its efforts on fighting the coronavirus rather than menacing the island.

China considers Tsai to be a separatist, charges she strongly denies.

Late next week, China will open its delayed annual meeting of parliament, where it is expected to release its defence budget for the year, a number closely watched around the region as President Xi Jinping oversees a military modernisation plan.