Chinese, US warships sailed through Taiwan Strait ahead of Biden-Xi talks

A 2021 photo shows a US guided-missile destroyer and a US coast guard vessel transiting the Taiwan Strait. PHOTO: REUTERS

TAIPEI (AFP) - Chinese and US warships sailed through the flashpoint Taiwan Strait on Friday (March 18), Taipei and Washington's defence ministries said.

The two vessels sailed through the strait hours before a highly anticipated call between US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping over the Ukraine crisis.

The call began at 1303 GMT (9.03pm Singapore time) on Friday, and concluded just under two hours later at 1453 GMT.

The waterway - which separates China from self-ruled, democratic Taiwan - is a flashpoint for the world's navies.

China regards Taiwan as its territory and has vowed repeatedly to seize it one day, by force if necessary. Meanwhile Washington, Taipei's most important ally, says the strait is an international waterway.

In a short statement sent to AFP via text message, Taiwan's defence ministry confirmed the passage of China's Shandong aircraft carrier on Friday.

"(We) emphasise that we are aware and monitoring all Chinese PLA aircrafts and ships operating in surrounding areas of Taiwan Strait," the statement read.

The US Department of Defence later told AFP by email that "one of our destroyers" sailed through the Taiwan Strait on Friday.

Chinese state media reported that Xi told Biden on Friday that conflicts between states were in "no one's interest" and the two countries should "shoulder our due international responsibilities" for world peace.

Such movements of warships in the 180km-wide strait are not uncommon.

The last time the Shandong sailed through it was December 2020 - a day after a US warship had made the same passage.

In December 2019, weeks before Taiwanese voters went to the polls, the Shandong also had a sail-by.

China-Taiwan relations have been especially frosty since President Tsai Ing-wen - who rejects Beijing's view that the island is part of "One China" - first took office in 2016.

China has massively ramped up its sabre-rattling in recent years, sending 969 Chinese warplanes into Taiwan's air defence zone in 2020, according to a database compiled by AFP - more than double the roughly 380 in 2020.

Under Biden's administration, Washington has stood by Taipei - so far approving at least two arms deals to the island to support its air and missile defence systems - a massive point of contention for Beijing which says such support "seriously undermines" US-China relations.

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