Two U.S. vessels pass through Taiwan Strait

In this file photo taken on March 31, 2011, sailors stand at attention as the guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem (DDG 63) departs U.S. Fleet Activities, Sasebo, Japan. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Richard Doolin/Released)

TAIPEI (CNA) — Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) confirmed on Feb. 26 that two U.S. Navy vessels sailed through the Taiwan Strait earlier in the day, the second such transit made by U.S. military ships this year.

The two American vessels, a combat ship and a supply ship, sailed into the Taiwan Strait from the southwest and headed north on Monday, before leaving the Taiwan Strait early Tuesday, an MND statement said, without naming the two ships.

The U.S. Department of Defense later confirmed the two ships to be the USS Stethem destroyer and the USNS Cesar Chavex cargo ship.

The ministry did not provide any additional information on the journey, other than to say Taiwan’s military was in full control of the situation.

Asked whether the U.S. decision to send military vessels through the Taiwan Strait indicated a problem with regional stability, Defense Minister Yen De-fa (嚴德發) rejected the speculation and stressed the situation in the region remained peaceful and stable.

The passage of U.S. military vessels through the waterway separating Taiwan and China marked the second such operation this year. The previous one came on Jan. 24 when guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell and the USNS Walter S. Diehl made a similar journey.

It was also the fifth passage of U.S. Naval ships through the Taiwan Strait since July last year.

The U.S. Department of Defense, meanwhile, confirmed the two ships transited between the South China Sea and the East China Sea via the Taiwan Strait Sunday through Monday U.S. time.

“This routine transit through international waters of the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Pentagon spokesman Dave Eastburn said in a statement.

“The U.S. DoD will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows,” he said.

The transit came at a sensitive time as U.S. President Donald Trump said the United States and China are close to ending a months-long trade war and Trump is to meet with Kim Jong Un of North Korea in the coming days.

By Joseph Yeh and Chiang Chin-yeh