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U.S. Navy Conducts its First Taiwan Strait Transit of the Year

John Finn
USS John Finn under way in the Pacific, Jan. 11 (USN file image)

Published Jan 24, 2024 8:11 PM by The Maritime Executive

The destroyer USS John Finn has carried out the first Taiwan Strait freedom of navigation transit of 2024, U.S. 7th Fleet said in a statement Wednesday. The transits typically occur every one to two months. 

John Finn‘s transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the United States’ commitment to upholding freedom of navigation for all nations as a principle. No member of the international community should be intimidated or coerced into giving up their rights and freedoms," said 7th Fleet. 

The Navy emphasized that Finn's course passed through waters located "beyond the territorial sea of any coastal state," including China or Taiwan. China claims control over the full 100-nautical-mile width of the Taiwan Strait, along with the vast majority of the South China Sea. International law limits a coastal state's territorial sea to no more than 12 nautical miles from shore.

The U.S. Navy's Taiwan Strait transits usually draw an angry response from Beijing. In a statement late Wednesday, the PLA Eastern Theater Command said that "the US military has frequently carried out provocative actions and maliciously undermined regional peace and stability," and that Chinese military units have been tracking the Finn's progress closely. 

Cross-strait tensions have been high for years amidst persistent concern that China will attempt to forcibly reunify the island. Taiwan has been self-governing since the late 1940s, when the Chinese Communist Party took power on the mainland. Beijing puts reunification towards the top of its list of priorities, and has not ruled out the use of force to achieve its goals. 

The recent presidential election cycle in Taiwan has not aligned with China's goals. Taiwanese voters selected Lai Ching-te, the current vice president, who is expected to continue his party's policy of maintaining a self-governing status quo. The Chinese government did not support this outcome, and its foreign ministry cautioned that the election results in Taiwan cannot change the "basic fact that Taiwan is part of China and there is only one China in the world."

Taiwan perceives China's ambition for reunification as a threat, and is investing in its defense capabilities, with help from foreign partners. Taiwan's navy recently unveiled its first domestically-developed attack submarine, the diesel-electric Narwhal. It is also investing in a new series of 12 light frigates, including six for antisubmarine warfare and six for air defense.