WASHINGTON • The United States is considering sending a warship through the Taiwan Strait, US officials say, in a move that could provoke a sharp reaction from Beijing at a time when Sino-US ties are under pressure from trade disputes and the North Korean nuclear crisis.
A US warship passage, should it happen, could be seen in Taiwan as a fresh sign of support by President Donald Trump after a series of Chinese military drills around the self-ruled island. China claims Taiwan as part of its territory.
Officials told Reuters that the US had already examined plans for an aircraft carrier passage once this year but ultimately did not pursue them, perhaps because of concerns about upsetting China.
The last time a US aircraft carrier transited the Taiwan Strait was in 2007, during the administration of George W. Bush, and some US military officials believe another carrier transit is overdue.
Another, less provocative option would be resuming the periodic, but still infrequent, passages by other US Navy ships through the strait, the last of which was in July last year. The Pentagon declined comment on any potential future operations and it was unclear how soon a passage might take place.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying urged the US to handle the Taiwan issue prudently, so as to avoid harming bilateral ties and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait region.
"We have repeatedly emphasised that the Taiwan issue is the most important and sensitive core issue in the China-US relationship," she told a daily news briefing yesterday. Taiwan's Defence Ministry declined to comment, saying the news had yet to be verified.
Mr Trump, who broke protocol as President-elect by taking a phone call from Taiwan's President in 2016, has toned down his rhetoric about Taiwan in recent months as he seeks China's aid in the nuclear standoff with North Korea.
The US and China are also trying to find their way out of a major trade dispute that has seen the world's two economic heavyweights threaten tit-for-tat tariffs on goods worth up to US$150 billion (S$200 billion) each.
China has alarmed Taiwan by ramping up military exercises this year, including flying bombers and other military aircraft around the island and sending its carrier through the narrow Taiwan Strait separating it from Taiwan.
"They're turning up the heat," another US official said in describing the US view of Chinese activities around Taiwan.