UK warship makes first Taiwan Strait transit since 2008

AFP News Agency

27th Sep, 2021. 08:04 pm

TAIPEI: Britain sent a warship through the Taiwan Strait on Monday for the first time since 2008, a move that challenges Beijing’s claim to the sensitive waterway and marks a rare voyage by a non-US military vessel.

HMS Richmond, a frigate deployed with Britain’s aircraft carrier strike group, sailed through the strait on a trip from Japan to Vietnam, Britain’s defence ministry said.

“Wherever the Royal Navy operate, they do so in full compliance with international law,” the ministry said in a statement.

“The UK has a range of enduring security interests in the Indo-Pacific and many important bilateral defence relationships, this deployment is a sign of our commitment to regional security,” it added.

Britain said it was the first time one of its warships had travelled through the narrow waterway separating Taiwan and mainland China since 2008, when HMS Kent made the voyage.

US warships regularly conduct “freedom of navigation” exercises in the strait and trigger angry responses from Beijing, which claims Taiwan and surrounding waters — and almost all of the South China Sea.

The US and most other countries view those areas as international waters that should be open to all vessels.

China’s initial response to the British warship’s passage was muted on Monday.

“We hope the relevant countries can do more to build mutual trust between countries and uphold peace and security in the region,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters.

Until recently, Washington was the main global power willing to sail through the Taiwan Strait.

But a growing number of US allies have transited the route as Beijing intensifies its military threats towards Taiwan and solidifies its control over the disputed South China Sea.

Canadian, French and Australian warships have all made voyages through the Taiwan Strait in recent years, sparking protests from China.

A Royal Navy survey ship, HMS Enterprise, transited through the strait in 2019 but it was not a warship.

Taiwan’s defence minister Chiu Kuo-cheng confirmed to reporters that a foreign vessel had sailed through the waterway but did not state which country it was from.

Taiwan’s 23 million people live under constant threat of invasion by authoritarian China, which has vowed to seize the island one day — by force if necessary.

Beijing has stepped up military, diplomatic and economic pressure on Taiwan since the election of President Tsai Ing-wen in 2016, who views the island as “already independent”.

Last year, Chinese military jets made a record 380 incursions into Taiwan’s defence zone, and the number of incursions for the first eight months of this year has already exceeded 400.

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