US Warships Sail Through Taiwan Strait

Two US Navy vessels sailed through the Taiwan Strait on Monday, the island's defence ministry said.

"The ships' transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the USA commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific", Army Col. Robert Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters Monday.

The U.S. Navy conducted a similar "freedom of navigation" exercise through the expansive waterway that separate China and Taiwan back in July. Nate Christensen, a spokesman for the Hawaii-based U.S. Pacific Fleet, told CNN. Taiwan late Monday requested that China refrain from interfering in its elections, saying Beijing should should respect and learn from its democracy.

Mattis added that "the USA will fly, sail, and operate wherever global law allows, and we encourage all nations to confidently exercise their right to do the same".

Multiple Chinese warships shadowed the two USA vessels during the transit, following at a safe distance, defense officials told CNN.

Taiwan's defence ministry said it closely monitored the operation and was able to "maintain the security of the seas and the airspace" as it occurred.

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The Pentagon says Washington has sold Taiwan more than $15bn in weaponry since 2010. "Taiwan might talk up its asymmetric warfare capabilities, but without the US, Taiwan would be dead".

Since the USA normalized relations with China, its relationship with Taiwan has been an area of recurring friction with Beijing, though Washington has tended to tread carefully.

Beijing recently conducted a series of military manoeuvres, including a live fire exercise in the Taiwan Strait in April, declaring its willingness to confront Taiwan's "independence forces".

There are also tensions between the two countries over China's growing military presence on man-made islands in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

Military experts say the balance of power between Taiwan and China has shifted decisively in China's favour in recent years, and China could easily overwhelm the island unless USA forces came quickly to Taiwan's aid.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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