US warships pass through Taiwan Strait amid heightened tensions with Beijing

Washington has no formal ties with Taiwan but is bound by law to help it defend itself and is the island’s main source of arms. (REUTERS)
Updated 07 July 2018
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US warships pass through Taiwan Strait amid heightened tensions with Beijing

  • China claims Taiwan as its own and has never renounced the use of force to bring under its control what it sees as a wayward province
  • US overtures toward Taiwan, from unveiling a new de facto embassy to passing the Taiwan Travel Act

WASHINGTON/TAIPEI: Two US warships passed through the Taiwan Strait on Saturday on a voyage that will likely be viewed in the self-ruled island as a sign of support by President Donald Trump amid heightened tension with China.
“Two US Navy ships conducted a routine transit through the international waters of the Taiwan Strait on July 7-8 (local time),” Captain Charlie Brown, a spokesman for US Pacific Fleet, told Reuters in a statement.
“US Navy Ships transit between the South China Sea and East China Sea via the Taiwan Strait and have done so for many years,” Brown said.
US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the destroyers Mustin and Benfold carried out the passage.
Earlier on Saturday, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said the ships were moving in a northeastern direction, adding that the situation was in accordance with regulations.
Washington has no formal ties with Taiwan but is bound by law to help it defend itself and is the island’s main source of arms. China regularly says Taiwan is the most sensitive issue in its ties with the United States.
The passage through the Taiwan Strait, the first such one by a US Navy ship in about a year, follows a series of Chinese military drills around the island that have stoked tensions between Taipei and Beijing.
“The US is aggravating Taiwan Strait tensions,” state-controlled Chinese tabloid The Global Times, which is run by the People’s Daily, said on Twitter.
“The PLA Navy must have monitored the situation and has it under control, a military affairs expert said after two US Navy vessels sailed through the Taiwan Strait on Saturday,” it added.
China claims Taiwan as its own and has never renounced the use of force to bring under its control what it sees as a wayward province. Taiwan has shown no interest in being governed by the ruling Communist Party in Beijing.
The move comes as a US-China trade fight is seen as dragging on for a potentially prolonged period, as the world’s two biggest economies flex their muscles with no sign of negotiations to ease tensions.
Reuters first reported last month that the United States was considering sending a warship and had examined plans for an aircraft carrier passage, but ultimately did not pursue that option 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 a carrier transit is overdue.
US overtures toward Taiwan, from unveiling a new de facto embassy to passing the Taiwan Travel Act, which encourages US officials to visit, have further escalated tension between Beijing and Taipei.
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis discussed the delicate issue of Taiwan during his trip to China last month.
“The US sending military ships through the Taiwan Strait is both a demonstration of its continuing support to Taiwan and of its willingness to exercise its maritime rights in China’s periphery,” said Abraham Denmark, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia under President Barack Obama.
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.
In recent months, China’s air force has held military maneuvers near the island, which Taipei has called intimidation.
China’s hostility toward Taiwan has grown since Tsai Ing-wen from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party won presidential elections on the island in 2016.


US-S. Korean military drills go ahead despite North’s threats  

Children perform a dance at a polling station on Sunday during voting for deputies to the Pyongyang City People’s Assembly. (AFP)
Updated 22 July 2019
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US-S. Korean military drills go ahead despite North’s threats  

  • Joint training exercise may affect denuclearization talks

SEOUL: South Korean and US troops will conduct a scheduled joint training exercise next month but in a low-key manner, a senior presidential security adviser from South Korea has confirmed.
This is despite warnings by North Korea that the exercise may affect the resumption of denuclearization talks between Washington and Pyongyang.
“The nature of the exercise is not offensive … and is for strengthening the alliance,” said Choi Jong-kun, the secretary for peace planning to President Moon Jae-in, during the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado on Saturday.
Choi told reporters that the exercise would largely involve computer simulations and few troops in the field, an apparent move not to intimidate the North, which has routinely condemned military drills by South Korea and the US.
On July 16, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry accused the US of readying for war by holding military drills with South Korea, hinting at the possibility of resuming missile and nuclear tests.
“It is crystal clear that it is an actual drill and a rehearsal of war aimed at militarily occupying our Republic by surprise attack and rapid dispatch of large-scale reinforcements,” the ministry said. “With the US unilaterally reneging on its commitments, we are gradually losing our justifications to follow through on the commitments we made with the US as well.”
The exercise the North has criticized is the “Alliance 19-2” scheduled for Aug. 5 and Aug. 23. Previously, the US-South Korean joint exercise in the latter part of the year was called the Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG), a command post operation centered on computer-simulated war games in response to a scenario of all-out war with the North.
The UFG was announced to end in June last year following a summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Earlier this year, the defense authorities agreed to end their springtime large-scale exercise as part of efforts to help facilitate the denuclearization negotiations.
The nuclear disarmament talks, however, have been stalled since the Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi, Vietnam collapsed over the relief of sanctions against the communist regime. Trump and Kim had a surprise meeting on June 30 at the border village of Panmunjom within the demilitarized zone that divides the two Koreas and agreed to resume working-level denuclearization talks.

FASTFACT

US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had a surprise meeting on June 30 at the border village of Panmunjom within the demilitarized zone that divides the two Koreas and agreed to resume working-level denuclearization talks.

American diplomatic and military leaders have rejected the North’s objections to the joint drills.
“I think we’re doing exactly what President Trump promised Chairman Kim we would do with respect to those exercises,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in an interview with the EWTN Catholic television network, a day after North Korea issued the statement about the exercise.
Adm. Phil Davidson, commander of US Indo-Pacific Command, said that North Korea had no reason to protest about military exercises on the Korean Peninsula.
“I can tell you my orders are to execute that exercise in April,” Davidson said during the Aspen forum on Thursday. “And I’ll say this about North Korean rhetoric: They have neither lowered nor raised their own exercise profile from before this negotiation … so they have little to complain about.”
Officials from Seoul’s Defense Ministry said that the Alliance19-2 is to proceed but the term “alliance” would be dropped in a move not to provoke the North. Instead, the exercise would be called a drill aimed at evaluating the South Korean military’s capability to take over wartime command authority from the US military.
“The exercise is aimed at testing and evaluating the initial operational capability of South Korean generals’ operational control of allied forces during wartime,” a Defense Ministry source told Arab News, asking not to be named.
To that end, a South Korean four-star general will oversee the joint exercise for the first time with the chief of US Forces Korea (USFK) serving as deputy commander.
About 28,500 American soldiers are stationed in South Korea, which remains technically at war with nuclear-armed North Korea.
Currently, the head of USFK is supposed to take operational control of both US and South Korean troops in the case of war. The USFK commander concurrently serves as chief of the Combined Forces Command (CFC) and the United Nations Command (UNC).
In October last year, the defense ministers of the two countries agreed to hand over more responsibility to South Korea for its national defense by 2022.
Both sides agreed to keep the CFC in place after the transfer of operational control, but the command will be under the leadership of a South Korean four-star general, with a US commander assuming a supporting role.