American Navy patrol aircraft flies through Taiwan Strait hours after China-US defence talks

American Navy patrol aircraft flies through Taiwan Strait hours after China-US defence talks

A US Navy patrol aircraft flew through the sensitive Taiwan Strait on Wednesday, just hours after Beijing warned Washington of the ultra-sensitive nature of the Taiwan issue in a conversation with defence chiefs.

US defense secretary Lloyd Austin held a virtual meeting with Chinese minister Dong Jun – their first since November 2022. The two leaders held discussions on a range of issues, including the situation in the South China Sea and as well as Taiwan Strait.

Beijing had shut down the high-level military communication channels in protest against former US House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the Taiwan in 2022.

China claims sovereignty over democratically governed Taiwan, and says it has jurisdiction over the strait and often engages in show of force by sending warships and fighter jets near the region. Taiwan and the United States dispute that, saying the Taiwan Strait is an international waterway.

The thaw in relations between the two world powers got a kick-start last November when president Joe Biden and China’s president Xi Jinping met on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco. About a month later, General CQ Brown, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke with his Chinese counterpart in a video call – in the first senior military-to-military contact since Ms Pelosi’s visit.

The US Navy’s 7th Fleet said the P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol and reconnaissance plane, which is also used for anti-submarine missions, flew over the strait in international airspace.

"By operating within the Taiwan Strait in accordance with international law, the United States upholds the navigational rights and freedoms of all nations," it said in a statement. "The aircraft’s transit of the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the United States’ commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific."

China’s military described the flight as “public hype”, adding it had sent fighters to monitor and warn the US plane and “deal with it in accordance with the law and regulations”.

“Troops in the theatre are always on high alert and will resolutely defend national sovereignty and security as well as regional peace and stability,” the Eastern Theatre Command of the People’s Liberation Army said in a statement.

Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said that the US aircraft flew south through the strait and that Taiwanese forces had monitored the situation but observed nothing unusual.

The last time the US Navy announced a Poseidon had flown through the strait, in December, China’s military said it had sent fighter jets to monitor and warn the aircraft.

While Mr Austin’s call with Mr Dong had been widely anticipated, the admiral was only appointed to the defence job in December.

Previous defence minister Wei Fenghe turned down a Pentagon request to speak with Mr Austin last year after the US shot down a Chinese spy balloon that had floated across the country. Mr Austin had previously met with Mr Wei in 2022 on the sidelines of a defence conference in Cambodia.

US and Chinese defence officials met earlier this month in Hawaii to discuss aggressive ship and aircraft incidents between the two militaries in the Pacific region. The two-day China-US Military Maritime Consultative Agreement meeting included about 18 military and civilian personnel from each side and it was the first time since 2019 that it was held in person. There was a virtual meeting in 2021, during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Additional reporting by agencies