US sails two warships through Taiwan Strait for first time since Pelosi visit raised tensions

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Two US warships are sailing through the Taiwan Strait for the first time since Nancy Pelosi's historic but highly controversial visit to the island last month.

On Sunday, two guided-missile warships – USS Antietam and USS Chancellorsville – were sailing “through waters where high seas freedoms of navigation and overflight apply in accordance with international law”, the US Navy’s 7th Fleet in Japan said in a statement.

It added that there had been “no interference from foreign military forces so far”.

"These ships [are transiting] through a corridor in the strait that is beyond the territorial sea of any coastal state. The ships’ transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the United States’ commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. The United States military flies, sails and operates anywhere international law allows.”

The US regularly sends its warships through the Taiwan Strait, claiming freedom of navigation. More recently, in July – before the House Speaker’s visit – the US sent USS Benfold and USS Port Royal to the Taiwan Strait.

Beijing claims Taiwan as its own, even though the island has been self-ruled since the civil war ended with the Communist Party in charge of the mainland in 1949. The US does not officially recognise Taiwan as a country but maintains a strong relationship with its administration, including deep trade ties.

During her visit last month, Nancy Pelosi said that America would “not abandon” Taiwan. “Today, the world faces a choice between democracy and autocracy. America’s determination to preserve democracy, here in Taiwan and around the world, remains ironclad,” she said at the time.

Her visit triggered an angry response from China directed at the US’s “interference”, which included diplomatic protests and unprecedented military drills around Taiwan. Since the end of those drills – which included launching a ballistic missile directly over the Taiwanese capital Taipei – China has continued testing the limits of Taiwanese airspace with sorties of warplanes.

US senator Marsha Blackburn arrived in Taiwan on Thursday, the latest member of Congress to visit the island this month. Reiterating US support for the island, she said: “Xi Jinping [president of China] doesn't scare me. I will not be bullied by Communist China into turning my back on the island. Taiwan is our strongest partner in the Indo-Pacific region. Regular high-level visits to Taipei are long-standing US policy.”

On Friday, China’s Eastern Theatre Command said it had conducted "joint combat-readiness security patrols and combat training exercises involving troops of multiple services and arms in the waters and airspace” around Taiwan.