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China musters troops to track US warship transit of Taiwan Strait

China’s People’s Liberation Army dispatched troops to shadow the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Sampson when it transited the Taiwan Strait this week, a passage described by a Chinese think-tank as “humiliating” for the PLA.

The U.S. 7th Fleet said in a statement that its Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Sampson (DDG 102) conducted a routine Taiwan Strait transit on Tuesday “through international waters in accordance with international law.”

The transit “demonstrates the United States’ commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the statement said, adding that the U.S. military “flies, sails, and operates anywhere international law allows.”

China responded quickly. A spokesperson for the PLA Eastern Theater Command on Wednesday said the U.S. has been “frequently carrying out provocative acts to send wrong signals to ‘Taiwan Independence’ forces, deliberately undermining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”

The spokesperson, Snr. Col. Shi Yi, said the U.S. Navy “hyped it [the Taiwan Strait transit] up publicly” and in response, “the PLA Eastern Theatre Command sent troops to track and monitor the U.S. warship’s passage, and remained alert in the whole course.”

‘Not threatening but humiliating’

China considers Taiwan a province of China and has repeatedly said that the democratic island of 23 million people will eventually be reunited with the mainland, by force if necessary.

The U.S. considers the waterway between the island and China’s mainland international waters and has been patrolling the Taiwan Strait as part of its Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy.

U.S. warships conducted 12 such transits last year and four since the beginning of 2022, according to Collin Koh, a regional military analyst.

Elsewhere in the South China Sea, the U.S. Navy has also been conducting regular Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs).

Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense on Wednesday described the USS Sampson’s northward journey through the strait as “normal” and said the Taiwanese military “used joint intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance to monitor movements at sea and in the air around Taiwan.”

The South China Sea Probe Initiative (SCSPI), a Beijing-based think-tank, however, said on Twitter: “The U.S. military operation around China has been over politicized.”

“We don’t know the meaning of this kind of publicity and hyping. For the PLAN (PLA Navy), this is not much threatening, but a bit humiliating,” it said.

The SCSPI offered no policy recommendations, but noted that the PLAN “also maintained full surveillance based on international practice.”

Tuesday’s passage was the first known Taiwan Strait transit for the USS Sampson, which has been forward-deployed to the 7th Fleet’s area of operations and is now taking part in a carrier strike group led by the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72).

The strike group conducted joint exercises with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) in the Sea of Japan on Apr. 13 and 14.