Taipei, July 25 (CNA) Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense (MND) confirmed that a U.S. military vessel sailed through the Taiwan Strait Thursday, the 11th U.S. vessel to make such transit since the start of this year.
The ship entered the Taiwan Strait from the southwest, heading north Thursday, the MND said in a statement, but did not name the vessel, although Reuters identified it as USS Antietam.
The passage of the U.S. warship through the Taiwan Strait constitutes freedom of navigation, the ministry said, adding that Taiwan's military monitored the transit and there was no "abnormal activity."
The ship's transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific, Reuters said, quoting a statement from the U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesperson Clay Doss.
"The U.S. Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows," the statement read.
The passage of the U.S. military vessel through the waterway separating Taiwan and China marked the sixth such operation this year.
The first one occurred Jan. 24, when the guided missile destroyer USS McCampbell and the USNS Walter S. Diehl made similar passages. USS Stethem and USNS Cesar Chavez transited Feb. 24, followed by the transit of the guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur and the maritime security cutter USS Bertholf March 24.
USS William P. Lawrence and USS Stethem then traversed the Taiwan Strait on April 28, followed by the transit of the destroyer Preble and the Navy oil tanker Walter S. Diehl on May 22.
Beginning this year, U.S. warships have sailed through the Taiwan Strait at least once a month, except in June.
The voyage on Thursday came amid heightened cross-strait tensions and on-going trade disputes between Washington and Beijing.
China on Wednesday released its first defense white paper since 2012. The paper makes clear that the Chinese military will resolutely "oppose and contain Taiwan independence."
Lin Ying-yu (林穎佑), an assistant professor at National Chung Cheng University's Institute of Strategic and International Affairs, told CNA that it should be noted U.S. warships did not conduct any transits through the Taiwan Strait in June, citing MND information.
He said Washington was busy attending foreign-related meetings, like the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, and the meeting between the U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
He said the transit of the USS Antietam through the Taiwan Strait was clearly "directed at China" since the operation coincided with Beijing's release of its defense white paper on Wednesday, which stated that China will not renounce the use of force in resolving cross-strait issues.
However, Lin added that since many U.S. warships have sailed through the Taiwan Strait recently, the passage of the USS Antietam was unlikely to trigger an aggressive response by China.
On the other hand, Lu Li-shih (呂禮詩), a former captain of the ROC Navy corvette Xinjiang told CNA that the difference between the USS Antietam's transit and earlier ones, was that it sailed alone and the previous transits were all in pairs.
Lu said this could indicate the U.S. Seventh Fleet is experiencing a shortage of manpower and military assets due to geo-political matters, including a focus on the South China Sea, North Korea's testing of missiles and China's release of its defense white paper.
He also said that although the U.S. considers the transits of its gray ships through the Taiwan Strait a "passage," China regards them as "close-in reconnaissance operations." This heightens the risks and pressures on the U.S. when only one warship passes through the Taiwan Strait, he added.