Two U.S. warships passed through the strait between China and Taiwan, the U.S. Navy said Saturday, in the first such operation since U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi's trip to the self-ruled island in early August caused tensions to spike.
While the U.S. 7th Fleet said the two guided-missile cruisers had conducted a "routine" transit through the Taiwan Strait on Sunday local time, the move drew ire from Beijing, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory.
It was the first known transit through the strait since July 19 by the U.S. Navy.
The U.S. ships transited through a corridor in the strait "that is beyond the territorial sea of any coastal state," and the move "demonstrates the United States' commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific," the 7th Fleet said in a press release.
A spokesperson for the Eastern Theater Command of the People's Liberation Army said later Sunday that China opposes the U.S. move and is "prepared to defeat any provocative actions."
Criticism also came from Hu Xijin, the former editor-in-chief of The Global Times, a tabloid of the Chinese Communist Party. He tweeted that the move by American forces "only reminds us the United States is a very unfriendly force" and that resolution to the Taiwan situation should be sped up.
Tensions have grown over the Taiwan situation, with China calling Pelosi's visit a "major provocation" and holding large-scale exercises near the democratic island.
Officials from the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden have criticized Beijing for choosing to "overreact" and using the House speaker's visit as a "pretext to increase provocative military activity in and around the Taiwan Strait."
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said earlier that the United States does not intend to raise tension further but will not be deterred from operating in the seas and the skies of the Western Pacific, consistent with international law, and from supporting Taiwan.
Communist-led China and Taiwan have been governed separately since they split in 1949 due to a civil war. Beijing views Taiwan as a renegade province to be reunited with the mainland, by force if necessary.
Taiwan is seen as a potential military flashpoint that could draw the United States into a conflict with China.
The United States changed its diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979 but has kept up unofficial relations with Taiwan and supplies the island with arms and spare parts to help it maintain sufficient self-defense capabilities.
A Taiwan contingency is also of particular concern for Japan, a U.S. security ally, given the proximity of its islands in the southwest -- including the Senkakus, a group of East China Sea islets controlled by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing.