In between two important meetings of top American and Chinese officials over the past week, there has emerged what appears to be a new framing by China of the Taiwan Strait that can only raise already high temperatures in the area. On Monday, China's Foreign Ministry said the strait falls within China's territorial waters and Beijing has sovereign and administrative rights over it. These remarks follow an earlier report that Chinese officials have, in recent months, been telling their United States counterparts that the strait is not within international waters. Such an assertion has implications for US warships transiting the strait as part of freedom of navigation exercises, which they have been doing with greater frequency in recent years. The US said it will continue to do so in accordance with international law and it is unclear what steps China will take when this happens in the light of its new position.
This new stance of the Chinese comes at a time of heightened tension between the two major powers as their strategic rivalry in the Indo-Pacific has grown. The Taiwan issue is a key bone of contention between the two and was front and centre of high-level meetings between their defence ministers at the Shangri-La Dialogue last week and between China's top diplomat Yang Jiechi and White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on Monday. These talks did nothing to close the gap between the two sides whether over Taiwan or other security issues, according to the readouts. At their talks in Luxembourg, Mr Yang accused the US of stepping up its efforts to contain and suppress China, including through the Taiwan issue, while Mr Sullivan expressed concerns about Beijing's coercive and aggressive actions across the Taiwan Strait.