China accuses US of ‘hyping’ warship passage through Taiwan Strait as island inaugurates new president

The Chinese military has accused America of “hyping” the passage of a US destroyer through the narrow Taiwan Strait and raising tensions less than two weeks before the island’s new president takes office.

The US Navy’s 7th Fleet said the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Halsey passed through the waters in accordance with international law on Wednesday.

The latest mission of the American warship comes at a sensitive time when Taiwan’s new president Lai Ching-te is set to be inaugurated on 20 May. The president-elect has long faced Beijing’s wrath for championing Taiwan’s sovereignty.

In a statement, naval senior captain Li Xi, spokesperson for the Eastern Theatre Command, said the passage of the USS Halsey was monitored by the command which oversees operations around the strait.

"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.

Mr Xi accused the US of having “publicly hyped” the passage of the USS Halsey.

The US Navy said the mission was a "routine Taiwan Strait transit" on Wednesday "through waters where high-seas freedoms of navigation and overflight apply in accordance with international law".

"Halsey’s transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the United States’ commitment to upholding freedom of navigation for all nations as a principle," the fleet’s statement said.

"No member of the international community should be intimidated or coerced into giving up their rights and freedoms. The US military flies, sails, and operates anywhere international law allows."

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

In this photo provided by the U.S. Navy, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Halsey (DDG 97) conducts routine underway operations while transiting through the Taiwan Strait (AP)
In this photo provided by the U.S. Navy, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Halsey (DDG 97) conducts routine underway operations while transiting through the Taiwan Strait (AP)

This is the latest such passage of a US warship around the waters after 17 April when a US P-8A anti-submarine patrol aircraft flew through the Taiwan Strait.

China, which lays claim on the entire island, also considers the passage of warships from the US, Britain and other nations through the Taiwan Strait as a challenge to its sovereignty. However, the heavily transited strait is international waters and vital to global trade.

In what has been called intimidation tactics by Taipei, China sends navy ships and warplanes into the strait and other areas around the island almost daily to wear down Taiwan’s defences.

The Taiwanese Defence Ministry, which regularly monitors Chinese movement around the island, said 23 Chinese military jets and eight naval ships were detected operating around the country in the 24 hours leading up to Thursday morning.

Eight of the planes crossed the median line in the strait and entered Taiwan’s air defence identification zone, prompting Taiwan to scramble jets and put coastal missile batteries and naval craft on alert in the latest altercation.

It comes as the US and Chinese defence chiefs held their first talks since November 2022 in an effort to reduce regional tensions.

Military-to-military contact between the US and Chinese forces stalled in August 2022, when Beijing suspended all such communication following then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s controversial visit to Taiwan.

China responded by firing missiles over Taiwan and staging a surge in military maneuvers, including what appeared to be a rehearsal of a naval and aerial blockade of the island.