Two United States warships are passing through international waters in the Taiwan Strait in the first such operation since China carried out an unprecedented military drill in the waterway last month.
In a press release on Sunday, the US Navy stated that the transit “demonstrates the United States’ commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific”.
Tensions in the Taiwan Strait rose to its highest level in years this month after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi landed in Taipei.
China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory, responded by staging days of air and sea exercises around the self-ruled island.
Beijing, which has never ruled out using force to bring back Taiwan under its control, saw the trip as a US attempt to intervene in China’s internal affairs.
Three US officials informed the Reuters news agency on the condition of anonymity that US Navy cruisers Chancellorsville and Antietam were executing the operation.
Such operations usually take between eight and 12 hours to conclude and are strictly monitored by the Chinese military.
US warships, and on occasion those from allied nations such as the United Kingdom and Canada, have routinely passed through the Strait in recent years, drawing Beijing’s wrath.
A week after Pelosi’s trip, a group of five other US legislators landed in Taiwan as well, with China’s military reacting by carrying out more exercises nearby.
Senator Marsha Blackburn, a US legislator on the Senate Commerce and Armed Services committees, landed in Taiwan on Thursday on the third visit by an American dignitary this month.
The Biden administration has promised to keep the tension between Washington and Beijing, inflamed by the trips, from boiling over into conflict, emphasizing that such congressional trips are routine.
The US has no formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan but is mandated by law to provide the island with the means to promote itself.
The narrow Taiwan Strait has been a frequent source of military tension since the defeated Republic of China government fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war with the communists, who created the People’s Republic of China.
Taiwan’s government says the People’s Republic of China has never ruled the island and so has no right to claim it, and that only its 23 million people can decide their future.