China calls US-Canada Taiwan Strait transit ‘provocative’

The ships were accompanied by reconnaissance aircraft, a Chinese think-tank claims.
By RFA Staff
China calls US-Canada Taiwan Strait transit ‘provocative’ U.S. Navy destroyer USS Higgins conducted joint Taiwan Strait transit with Royal Canadian Navy’s frigate HMCS Vancouver on Sept.20, 2022.
U.S. Navy 7th Fleet

China on Wednesday denounced a Taiwan Strait transit conducted the previous day by two warships from the U.S. and Canada, calling it a “provocative move.”

Senior Col. Shi Yi, spokesman for the Eastern Theater Command of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), said in a statement the transit by U.S. Navy destroyer USS Higgins and Royal Canadian Navy frigate HMCS Vancouver on Sept. 20 was “hyped up publicly.”

“The PLA Eastern Theater Command had organized its air and naval forces to track and monitor the U.S. and Canadian warships in the whole course,” Shi Yi said, adding that the Command’s troops “are on high alert at all times to resolutely counter any threat and provocation, and safeguard China’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

In the early hours of Wednesday, Taiwan’s ministry of defense announced that a U.S. and a Canadian warship were sailing from the south to the north of the Taiwan Strait, that their passage was being monitored closely and the situation in the surrounding airspace and waters was normal.

The trip of Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Higgins and Halifax-class HMCS Vancouver was supported by at least two U.S. ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) aircraft, a Chinese think tank specialized in the South China Sea alleged.

This is the first transit by western naval vessels through the Taiwan Strait this month. The previous one, by Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruisers USS Antietam and USS Chancellorsville, was on Aug. 28. 

“Such passages have been routinized at least since the start of the Biden administration, judging from the average of one reported transit per month,” said Collin Koh, a regional military analyst based in Singapore.

Routine transit

A press release by the U.S. Navy 7th Fleet said the warships “conducted a routine Taiwan Strait transit… through waters where high seas freedoms of navigation and overflight apply in accordance with international law.”

“The ships transited through a corridor in the Strait that is beyond the territorial sea of any coastal State,” said the 7th Fleet.

Besides demonstrating the commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific, “cooperation like this represents the centerpiece of our approach to a secure and prosperous region,” it said.

The Taiwanese ministry of foreign affairs welcomed the transit, noting that “China's recent military provocation in the Taiwan waters and airspace led to an escalation of the situation in the Taiwan Strait.”

Halifax-class frigate HMCS Vancouver of the Royal Canadian Navy, Sept. 20, 2022. CREDIT: U.S. Navy 7th Fleet

According to the Canadian ministry of defense, the Vancouver is currently on its way to Operation NEON to monitor United Nations Security Council sanctions against North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction programs.

During this deployment under Operation NEON, HMCS Vancouver will also participate in exercises KEEN SWORD, with the U.S. military and Japan Self-Defense Force, and KAEDEX with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, the ministry said in a statement.

The Canadian minister of national defense, Anita Anand, said: “As a Pacific nation, Canada is deeply committed to upholding global stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.”

“Today’s routine Taiwan Strait transit demonstrates our commitment to a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific,” she said.

Sending a signal

Previously in Oct. 2021 another Halifax-class frigate of the Royal Canadian Navy, the HMCS Winnipeg, together with the U.S. guided missile destroyer USS Dewey conducted the first joint transit through the Taiwan Strait. 

“Canada likely wanted to send the signal, just like the Western powers do, that transit passage through the straits ought to be unimpeded and shouldn’t discriminate between civilian and military vessels,” Singapore-based Collin Koh told RFA.

“And of course, it’s much safer to have the company of a more powerful ally, even if the Canadian ship itself is reasonably well armed,” the analyst added.

The U.S. and its allies have repeatedly expressed their concerns over China's recent military actions in the Taiwan Strait, especially after the visit to the island by the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in early August.

In response to the visit, China announced a week-long military drill around Taiwan, carried out by the PLA Eastern Theater Command.

During a TV interview aired on Sunday, President Joe Biden said the U.S. military would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion. 

Beijing lodged “stern representations” with Washington over Biden’s remarks even after White House’s reiteration that U.S. policy on Taiwan had not changed.

A recent survey of 64 Taiwanese experts on China conducted by the ChinaPower Project, affiliated to the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Taipei, found that all of them believe that the U.S. would deploy troops to defend Taiwan from a Chinese invasion. Over 60% of the experts said such an invasion would take place in the next ten years.

Meanwhile more than a half of the people who responded to an opinion poll conducted by the Taiwan Public Opinion Foundation (TPOF) said that if China invaded Taiwan tomorrow, China would win the war.

Nearly a third of respondents believe that Taiwan could win, according to the poll results released on Tuesday.


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