China says 'grave concern' over US Senate move to allow American warships to dock in Taiwan

TAIPEI - China has expressed "grave concern" over a vote by the US Senate to allow American warships to call at Taiwan's ports, a move seen as signalling a major change in US policy towards Taiwan, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ).

The Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday (June 28) voted to allow regular stops by US naval vessels as part of an annual defence-policy measure. 

In a bipartisan 21-6 vote, the panel approved re-establishing "regular ports of call by the US Navy at Kaohsiung or any other suitable ports in Taiwan and permits US Pacific Command to receive ports of call by Taiwan", said WSJ.

The new policy also directs the Defence Department to help Taiwan develop its "indigenous undersea-warfare capabilities, including vehicles and sea mines" and calls for strengthening strategic cooperation.

This is part of the National Defence Authorisation Act, which sets US national security policies and spending. The decision will have to be ratified by US lawmakers in Congress first.

China responded to the move with anger. “We express our grave concern on this Taiwan-related Bill,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang in a regular news briefing on Thursday.

“The Taiwan issue concerns China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It is China’s internal affairs.”

A spokesman for China’s Defence Ministry echoed the sentiment, reported WSJ.

“We have always firmly opposed any form of official contacts and military interaction between the US and Taiwan,” Senior Colonel Wu Qian was quoted by WSJ as telling a regular news conference later Thursday, saying such contacts risk damaging China-US relations and peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

When contacted, Taiwan's Ministry of Defence spokesman said it is optimistic and welcomes the "emphasis on the importance of military exchanges between Taiwan and the US which will benefit the peace and national security of Taiwan".

According to WSJ, the proposed policy change towards Taiwan is being driven by senators, and it is not clear how it is being viewed in the White House.

If given the green light, the new policy breaks with a nearly 40-year long diplomatic practice when US cut formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1979 and recognised Beijing as the government of "One China", while keeping friendly non-official ties with Taipei.

China regards self-ruling Taiwan as part of its own territory awaiting reunification under Beijing's rule, and any US move that would imply support for independence might cause a fallout.

In December, Taiwan celebrated a diplomatic coup when Mr Trump, as president-elect, took a congratulatory phone call from President Tsai Ing-wen and raised questions about whether he would stick with the four-decade-old "one China" policy.

But Mr Trump later changed tack and agreed to honour the "one China" policy during a phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

China has more than 1,500 missiles aimed at Taiwan, according to Taiwan's Defence Ministry.

Taiwan wants to build eight submarines to bolster its current fleet of four ageing vessels, in response to China's increased military threat around its waters. In January, a group of Chinese warships led by the Liaoning aircraft carrier entered the Taiwan Strait.

Given the pressure from Beijing, Taiwan has been unable to buy submarines and aircraft from the US and European suppliers.

The US is Taiwan's only major political ally and its sole arms supplier, and weapons sales to Taiwan have repeatedly upset Beijing.

Taiwan is seeking a new arms package from the Trump administration, which Taipei hopes will include technology transfer and parts for its self-made submarines.