US ships pass through Taiwan Strait as China tensions climb

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG, AFP) - United States naval ships transited through the Taiwan Strait as faltering trade talks and the Trump administration's move to restrict Chinese tech companies' access to the American market fuels tensions.

The guided-missile destroyer USS Preble and fleet replenishment oiler USNS Walter S Diehl conducted a routine transit through the waters on Wednesday (May 22) and Thursday in accordance with international law, US Seventh Fleet public affairs officer Clay Doss confirmed to Bloomberg News in an e-mail.

"The ships' transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. The US Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows," Mr Doss said.

Taiwan's military said it "was closely monitoring the whole process and movements in our neighbouring sea and air space according to protocol to maintain regional peace and stability".

The transits highlight the US' strategic rivalry with China. Washington has increased its naval passages through the 180km wide strait separating Taiwan from the Chinese mainland over the last year.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said in a Facebook post that the ships had conducted a freedom of navigation passage through the strait, and that there had been no abnormal activity.

Local media said that Wednesday was the fifth time US warships traversed the strait this year.

Beijing views any ships passing through the strait as essentially a breach of its sovereignty - while the US and many other nations view the route as international waters open to all.

China sees Taiwan as part of its territory to be reunified, despite the two sides being ruled separately since the end of a civil war on the mainland in 1949.

The latest American passage comes after talks to end the long-running trade battle between the US and China fell apart earlier this month.

Washington has since restricted tech giant Huawei Technologies Co's access to the American market and is considering blacklisting as many as five other Chinese tech companies, raising questions about whether President Donald Trump is targeting more of the country's firms.

After an April 29 transit by two US naval vessels through the strait, Taiwanese presidential hopeful and Foxconn founder Terry Gou called for the democratically run island to adopt high-tech defence mechanisms.

Mr Gou is the most prominent candidate for the opposition Kuomintang party's nomination in a 2020 election that will determine whether Taiwan moves closer to China, which considers it a province.

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