The US Department of Defense sent two US warships through the Taiwan strait in another clear provocation to Beijing.
Tensions between the US and China remain high amid the trade war, which has also leaked in other areas of interest such as Taiwan and the South China Sea.
Taiwan’s defense ministry and the Pentagon say the warships passed through international waters on October 22nd. Taiwan said it was aware of the “routine” operation and reiterated its capability of defending its maritime territory and airspace security.
Both the US and Taiwan say that the operation took place in international waters. Pentagon spokesman Colonel Rob Manning told reporters during a press briefing that “in the Taiwan Strait, earlier today, USS Curtis Wilbur and USS Antietam conducted a routine Taiwan Strait transit in accordance with international law.”
“The ships’ transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Manning said. “The US Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law permits.”
Manning added that in conducting the transit, the US “maintained coordination and contact with the appropriate nations, authorities and parties”. It was “certainly not the Department [of Defence]’s intention to raise tensions or any kind of escalation,” according to the spokesman.
Another Pentagon spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Logan said that the Pentagon had not received “any information talking about unsafe and unprofessional encounters with any Chinese vessels.”
The move is likely to prompt a Beijing response, as the South China Morning Post cited Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang who told press in Beijing that the US should “correct its mistakes, stop any official contact, military ties and arms sales to the Taiwan region.”
Lu also claimed that the US should hold back “Taiwan independence” forces in case it further harmed the already damaged China-US relations or peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.
This follows US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe in Singapore on October 18th.
According to the South China Morning Post, Mattis reportedly had tried to explain to Wei that US policies toward Taiwan were unchanged.
“Minister Wei raised Taiwan and concerns about our policy. The secretary reassured Minister Wei that we haven’t changed our Taiwan policy, our One China policy,” Randall Schriver, a US assistant secretary of defence for Asian and Pacific security affairs, was cited by Reuters.
Mattis also reportedly seeks more resilient ties with the Chinese military, so as to navigate tension and avoid an inadvertent conflict.
On October 16th, the South China Morning Post reported that a think tank affiliated to the Chinese State Council warned China to prepare to for more US provocations. The report also urged Chinese authorities to do more to win over Southeast Asian countries because it faces “long-term” struggle to counter US influence.
Regarding the trade war itself, China is making steps toward Chinese “self-reliance.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the southern Chinese province of Guangdong on October 22nd. That is where the precision moulding plant and a key laboratory at Gree Electric Appliances in Zhuhai, one of the country’s biggest manufacturers are located.
During his visit he said that his country must develop its manufacturing industry and technology to become a “strong” country, according to the People’s Daily.
“To go from a big country to a strong one, we must give paramount importance to the development of the real economy,” Xi said. “Manufacturing is a key to the real economy, and the core strength of manufacturing is innovation, or the control of core technologies. We must … seek innovation by relying on ourselves, and I hope all enterprises will work in this direction.”
On October 21st, the Financial Times cited Larry Kudlow, the White House top economic adviser. According to him Beijing had offered no sign that it was willing to meet US demands regarding “unfair trade practices”, ahead of a likely meeting between Trump and Xi at the G20 in Argentina next month.
According to Kudlow, the US had given Beijing a “detailed list of asks,” however the Chinese side has provided no response whatsoever.
Beijing maintains that it supports free trade and blames the US for the trade war.
Recent US moves in imposing tariffs on further imports, as well as sanctions on ZTE Technologies for allegedly trading with Iran have renewed Chinese efforts to cut reliance on imports.
During his trip, Xi said China must show “backbone and determination” in growing its own technological strength and enhance “independent innovation capabilities.”
On the morning of October 23rd, Xi attended the opening ceremony of a Chinese mega project. The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, the world’s longest sea bridge is intended to increase the link between the two former colonies and the mainland.
There appears to be no sign of the US reducing the pressure on China. In addition to constant provocations in the South China Sea, the trade war, US officials and mostly Donald Trump are also accusing Beijing of meddling in US internal policy and meddling in the incoming mid-term elections. No evidence has been provided to support any of the claims.