U.S. Navy Made a Quiet Taiwan Strait Transit Before U.S.-China Summit

USS Benfold carrying out underway replenishment with USS Ronald Reagan
USS Benfold takes on fuel from the carrier USS Ronald Reagan in the Philippine Sea, Nov. 16 (USN)

Published Nov 20, 2022 8:14 PM by The Maritime Executive

The destroyer USS Benfold made a quiet transit through the Taiwan Strait on November 5, nine days ahead of a high-profile meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping. 

The previously-undisclosed mission was announced by a spokesman for Pacific Fleet on Friday. Neither the U.S. nor the Chinese government mentioned the transit at the time; China's military and foreign ministry typically register strong objections when American warships pass through the Taiwan Strait. 

The symbolic U.S. Navy transits are intended to show resolve in the face of Beijing's repeated threat to reunify Taiwan by force. They are repeated at regular intervals, typically once every few months. 

At Biden and Xi's meeting in Bali last week, Taiwan was very much on the menu. 

The Biden administration supports Taiwanese self-governance, and the president has repeatedly pledged that America will intervene militarily to defend the island if China attempts annexation by force. His recent promises of military action are a departure from the official line: longstanding policy emphasizes "strategic ambiguity" to maintain uncertainty about any American response. 

In a readout of the meeting, the White House said that Biden "raised U.S. objections to the [People's Republic of China]’s coercive and increasingly aggressive actions toward Taiwan" and emphasized that "the United States opposes any unilateral changes to the status quo by either side." 

The message from Beijing called for the U.S. to leave matters alone. "The Taiwan question is at the very core of China's core interests, the bedrock of the political foundation of China-U.S. relations, and the first red line that must not be crossed in China-U.S. relations," Xi said in a statement run by state-owned outlet Xinhua. "Resolving the Taiwan question is a matter for the Chinese and China's internal affair."

After his meeting with Xi, Biden said that there was no immediate cause for concern. "I do not think there's any imminent attempt on the part of China to invade Taiwan," he told reporters. 

Nonetheless, the U.S. Navy continues to emphasize preparedness for naval combat in the region. After Biden's meeting, USS Benfold met up with units from the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, Royal Australian Navy and Royal Canadian Navy for exercise Keen Sword 23 in waters near Japan. Keen Sword is a two-week exercise focused on surface gunnery and anti-submarine warfare. 

“Regional security is a team effort now more than ever,” said Cmdr. Marcus Seeger, commanding officer of USS Benfold. “We share a sense of collective resolve. The first wave of crisis response will share the same allies present in this year’s Keen Sword.”