Taiwan Strait: USS Benfold enters Chinese-claimed waters for third time in a week after US Navy destroyer sails in South China Sea

Washington said the latest voyage of the guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold demonstrated its “commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” but Beijing criticized it as a “provocation” that showed the United States is a “destroyer of peace and stability.” “

The strait is a 110 miles (180 kilometers) wide strip of water that separates the democratic self-governing island of Taiwan from mainland China.

Beijing claims sovereignty over Taiwan despite the fact that the ruling Chinese Communist Party has never controlled the island and considers the strait to be part of its “inland waters”.

However, the US Navy maintains that most of the strait is in international waters.

The Navy cites international law that defines territorial waters as extending 12 nautical miles from the country’s coastline and regularly sends its warships across the strait in what it calls freedom of navigation operations, including on May 10 when the guided missile cruiser USS Port Royal made a similar journey.

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On Wednesday, the Benfold passed “through a corridor in a strait that is outside the territorial waters of any coastal state,” said U.S. 7th Fleet spokesman Lt. C. Nicholas Lingo.

China reacted angrily to the ship’s presence in the strait, with its military saying on Wednesday that it followed and followed the American ship during its transit.

“The frequent provocations and show-offs by the United States fully demonstrate that the United States is the destroyer of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and the creator of security threats in the Taiwan Strait,” the colonel said. Shi Yi, representative of the Eastern Command of the People’s Liberation Army of China. “The theater troops are constantly on high alert and will resolutely defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Last week, Benfold conducted two freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea, close to the contested islands where Beijing has built military installations.

On July 13, a US destroyer defied what the US 7th Fleet called Beijing’s “excessive maritime claims” around the Paracel Islands, known as the Xisha Islands in China, and on Saturday near the Spratly Islands, known as the Nansha Islands in China. . Beijing also reacted angrily to the Benfold’s voyage next to the Paracels.

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Tensions between the US and China over Taiwan have risen in recent days, with Beijing sharply criticizing US relations with the island twice last week.

On Monday, Beijing said the $108 million sale of U.S. weapons to Taipei “seriously threatens China’s sovereignty and security interests, and seriously harms relations between the two countries and their military forces.”

And on Tuesday, a Beijing official said he was “categorically opposed” to a possible visit to the island by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Some reports suggest that Pelosi will visit Taiwan in August. She previously planned to bring a US congressional delegation to the island in April, but the trip was delayed after she tested positive for Covid-19.