Canada Joins U.S. for Freedom of Navigation Transit in Taiwan Strait

HMCS Vancouver as seen from the deck of USS Higgins (USN)

Published Sep 20, 2022 6:04 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Royal Canadian Navy has joined the U.S. Navy in a transit of the Taiwan Strait, a symbolic gesture supporting freedom of navigation, the rules-based demarcation of international waters and (implicitly) the independent governance of Taiwan. 

The destroyer USS Higgins and Royal Canadian Navy Halifax-class frigate HMCS Vancouver carried out the "routine" transit Tuesday "through waters where high seas freedoms of navigation and overflight apply in accordance with international law," U.S. 7th Fleet emphasized. 

In an implicit response to China's sweeping maritime claims, the command described the region as "beyond the territorial sea of any coastal State." 

It is the first U.S. Navy transit of the strait since August 29, when cruisers USS Antietam and USS Chancellorsville passed through the waterway. 

Both recent transits coincided with American statements of support for Taiwan's government - the first with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taipei, and the second with U.S. President Joe Biden's apparent confirmation that the U.S. would defend Taiwan from a Chinese invasion. 

In an appearance on the Sunday edition of 60 Minutes, Biden was asked whether “U.S. forces, U.S. men and women, would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion.” He answered simply "yes," without qualification. 

The longstanding U.S. policy of "strategic ambiguity" towards Taiwan has always left the exact contours of an American military response open to interpretation, and Biden's unequivocal statement - his third in recent months - appears to be a change from the status quo, though his aides attempted to walk back his remarks on Tuesday. 

Biden's response drew a swift complaint from China's foreign ministry. "China strongly deplores and rejects it and has made solemn complaints with the U.S. side,” a spokeswoman for the ministry told AP. “We will do our utmost to strive for the prospect of peaceful reunification with the utmost sincerity, while we will not tolerate any activities aimed at splitting China and reserve the option to take all necessary measures."

For its part, Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that it extends "its sincere appreciation to President Biden for once again emphasizing the staunch and rock-solid US security commitment to Taiwan."