USCG Transits Taiwan Strait Days After High-Level Diplomatic Visit

USCGC Stratton
USCGC Stratton operating in the South China Sea, June 2023 (USCG)

Published Jun 23, 2023 1:39 AM by The Maritime Executive

Just days after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Beijing for a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the U.S. Coast Guard sailed one of its largest cutters through the Taiwan Strait, a symbolic move demonstrating U.S. solidarity with Taipei.

According to 7th Fleet, USCGC Stratton conducted a transit of the strait through "waters where high-seas freedoms of navigation and overflight apply . . . through a corridor in the Strait that is beyond the territorial sea of any coastal State." The phrasing counters Chinese territorial assertions: China claims sovereignty over all of the Taiwan Strait, as well as the island of Taiwan, the vast majority of the South China Sea, and the Paracel and Spratly Islands. 

Speaking through the China Coast Guard, the Chinese government acknowledged that the Stratton's transit occurred and accused the U.S. of "hyping" the event by publicly announcing it. 

The government-owned Global Times noted that there was a de-escalatory element to this particular freedom of navigation operation. The U.S. Navy usually conducts Taiwan Strait transits with a cruiser or destroyer, and China typically objects through a spokesperson at the PLA Eastern Theater Command. Instead, this transit was conducted by a U.S. Coast Guard cutter, operating on its own, and the Chinese response came through the China Coast Guard. Both are military agencies, but are not geared towards high-end conflict. 

Beijing has also taken note of the Coast Guard's growing role in the vast reaches of the Western Pacific. In Micronesia, the Solomon Islands and other far-flung archipelagic nations, the agency is often the only American presence on the ground, and it plays an important partnership and outreach function for this strategic region. The USCG also supports the Philippine Coast Guard, which regularly confronts Chinese interests in the Spratly Islands. "The US intention is obvious: to help these countries maintain so-called maritime security, ensure that other countries do not excessively develop the ocean through joint law enforcement at sea, and essentially aim to contain China," Chinese military commentator Song Zhongping told Global Times.