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US warship sails through Taiwan Strait amid tensions with China

US says destroyer USS McCampbell conducted ‘routine Taiwan Strait transit’ in accordance with international law.

A United States warship passed through the Taiwan Strait on Wednesday, the US and Taiwan’s militaries said, following heightened tensions between China and Taiwan that has seen Taiwanese air force jets scramble to intercept Chinese fighters.

The ship sailed north through the waterway and was monitored by Taiwan’s armed forces, the island’s defence ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

It described the sailing as an “ordinary mission”, saying there was no cause for alarm, Reuters news agency reported.

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Anthony Junco, a spokesman for the US Seventh Fleet said the ship was the guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell, which conducted “a routine Taiwan Strait transit March 25 (local time) in accordance with international law”.

“The ship’s transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. The US Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows,” he said.

Taiwan is China’s most sensitive territorial and diplomatic issue and Beijing has never ruled out the use of force to bring the island under its control.

The narrow Taiwan Strait that separates the island from China is a frequent source of tension.

In recent weeks China’s air force has carried out several exercises close to Taiwan, causing Taiwan’s mostly US-equipped military to scramble fighters to intercept and warn away the Chinese aircraft.

Taiwan has called the Chinese drills provocative and has called on China to pay more attention to fighting the spread of the coronavirus rather than menacing Taiwan.

The US, like most countries, has no official relations with Taiwan, but is the island’s most important international supporter and main source of arms.

In January another US warship sailed through the Taiwan Strait less than a week after President Tsai Ing-wen won re-election by a landslide on a platform of standing up to China.

Tsai visited a military base on Tuesday and again warned of the threat from China during the virus outbreak.

“Everyone knows that although at present there is an intense epidemic situation, the Chinese Communist’s military aircraft continue to harass Taiwan; their threat to Taiwan and regional security has not gone down,” she said.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, China has also stepped up its military activity in the region.

In recent days, it has been reported that Beijing launched two research stations on two disputed islands in the South China Sea, within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.

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Taiwan says WHO ignored its coronavirus questions at start of outbreak

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan accused the World Heath Organization of ignoring its questions at the start of the coronavirus outbreak, part of what it has long described as a pattern that puts it at risk because of Chinese pressure to exclude it from international bodies.

Taiwan is barred from membership in the WHO under pressure from China, which views it as a province rather than a state. It responded early to the coronavirus outbreak in China, and has had notable success in limiting contagion so far, with just two deaths and 215 cases.

Taiwan’s government has said that keeping it out of the WHO during the outbreak amounts to playing politics with Taiwanese lives, and it has been denied access to first-hand information. Both the WHO and China say Taiwan has been provided with the help it needs.

Speaking to reporters in Taipei, the island’s Centres for Disease Control chief Chou Jih-haw said that it written to the WHO and China as early as Dec. 31, asking for information about the newly uncovered virus outbreak in China’s Wuhan city, including whether there was human-to-human transmission.

“We asked them whether there’s a possibility of human-to-human transmission. We indeed asked them and reminded them of the matter,” Chou said. He said the WHO confirmed it had received the letter but did not respond to it.

Health Minister Chen Shih-chung, sitting next to Chou, said Taiwan had fortunately decided that same day to begin screening passengers flying in from Wuhan, and activated its emergency operations center on Jan. 2 – a move experts say allowed Taiwan to effectively control the early spread of the virus.

While Taiwan did send experts to China in January, they were not allowed to see any patients or to go to the market where the virus is believed to have originated, Chen said. That trip made Taiwanese officials realize they had to act quickly.

China confirmed human-to-human transmission on Jan. 20. The WHO said on Jan. 12 there was no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission.

The WHO, in a statement to Reuters, did not directly address the issue of Taiwan being ignored, but said its office in China was informed of the “pneumonia of unknown cause” on Dec. 31.

“Since that time until now WHO has regarded the event as very serious and applied the full range of attention to it from across the organization,” it said.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang denounced what he said were efforts to “politically manipulate” the outbreak, and that the WHO dealt with Taiwan under the “one China” principle.

Taiwan has also complained about the WHO listing its cases under China’s, saying this has confused countries into believing its situation is as serious as in mainland China, where more than 80,000 cases have been reported.

(This story is refiled to change Wuhan description to city not province in paragraph 4)

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Taiwan air force scrambles again to warn off Chinese jets

Taiwan says Chinese military aircraft flew into the waters southwest of island for night-time exercises.

Taiwan’s air force has again scrambled to warn off approaching Chinese jets, in the latest rise in military tension between Beijing and the island it claims as its own.

Taiwan has repeatedly complained that China has stepped up its drills near to the island when it should be focusing its efforts on combating the spread of the coronavirus.

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China has said such exercises are to protect its sovereignty and send a warning that it will not tolerate any moves towards formal independence for Taiwan.

In the latest instance, Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said late on Monday that Chinese J-11 fighters and KJ-500 airborne early warning and control aircraft flew into the waters southwest of Taiwan for night-time exercises.

During this period, they came close to Taiwan’s Air Defence Identification Zone, the ministry added.

“After our air reconnaissance and patrol aircraft responded appropriately, and broadcast (an order) to drive them away, the Communist aircraft flew away from our Air Defence Identification Zone.”

‘Encirclement’ drills

Taiwan’s military keeps close watch on the Taiwan Strait and its environs to ensure the island’s security, and people have no cause for alarm, the ministry said.

There was no immediate comment from China’s military on the latest drills.

China has been flying what it calls “island encirclement” drills on and off since 2016 when Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen first took office. Beijing believes Tsai, who won re-election in January, is an independence supporter.

Tsai says Taiwan is already an independent country called the Republic of China, its official name.

The virus outbreak has worsened already poor ties between Taiwan and China, with the two sides accusing each other of spreading fake news, and Taiwan particularly angered by China blocking its access to the World Health Organization.


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