US sails through Taiwan Strait as allies continue to increase visibility in...

US sails through Taiwan Strait as allies continue to increase visibility in disputed waters

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In a file photo, Ensign Christopher Hevey, assigned to the guided-missile destroyer USS Spruance, uses binoculars to investigate a contact during a Taiwan Strait transit. (Lt. j.g. John Horne/U.S. Navy)

WASHINGTON — Two U.S. warships sailed through the Taiwan Strait Thursday morning as the Pentagon continues to ramp up its visibility in one of the region’s most hair-trigger flashpoints.

Pentagon officials said the guided missile destroyer USS McCampbell and USNS Walter S. Diehl conducted a routine  transit sailing through the waterway, which separates mainland China from the islands that make up Taiwan.

“The USS McCampbell and USNS Walter S. Diehard transited between the South China Sea and East China Sea via the Taiwan Strait on January 24. This routine transit through international waters of the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Lt. Col. Christopher Logan, a Pentagon spokesperson, told TMN in a statement. “The U.S. will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.”

Earlier this month, the USS McCampbell sailed within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Island chain — one of the areas of significant Chinese occupation — to “challenge excessive maritime claims,” the Navy said in a statement.

The U.S. military, with sailings and overflights, has increased the number of appearances in the South China Sea, East China Sea and Taiwan Strait regions in an effort to confront China’s expansion and militarization of those areas.

It has been joined by the United Kingdom, Japan and other allies in conducting what are known as freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) in the waterways and skies — much to the ire of Beijing.

Last year the Navy sailed ships through the Taiwan Strait three times, often followed by Chinese vessels. Usually the Navy conducts only one sailing through the strait each year.

On Friday, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson foreshadowed the sailing, telling reporters in Tokyo that the Pentagon routinely considers sending an aircraft carrier through the Taiwan Strait, according to news reports. Neither of the ships that sailed through Thursday were carriers.

Richardson had visited China prior to his stop in Japan.

Thursday’s sailing came as at least two Chinese military aircraft were spotted flying over the Bashi Channel north of the Philippines in the South China Sea, according to news reports.

It was unclear if the U.S. sailing or the Chinese flights occurred first.

The Thursday sailing was first reported by CNN.

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