China Saber Didn't Rattle As U.S. Cruisers Sail Through Taiwan Strait
On Sunday, Aug. 28, 2022, the US Navy sent two guided-missile cruisers through the Taiwan Strait, which China now claims as its "internal waters," but the US and others maintain the strait is international waters under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Brad Lendon wrote for CNN.
Photo Insert: The USS Antietam was one of the US warships that sailed through Taiwan Strait.
It was the first time in at least four years the US Navy had sent two cruisers through the strait, said Collin Koh, research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, who has been keeping a database on the transits.
"Having two instead of the usual one vessel to do this mission is certainly a 'bigger' signal of protest against not only Beijing's recent military exercises around Taiwan following the Pelosi visit but also in response to Beijing's attempt to subvert the legal status of the waterway and the longstanding freedom of navigation rights through the area," Koh said.
That the US warships made the transit Sunday was no surprise. They have made dozens of such voyages in recent years, and US officials had said transits would continue.
What was surprising to analysts was the muted response from Beijing. The Chinese military's Eastern Theater Command said it monitored the two ships, maintained a high alert, and was "ready to thwart any provocation."
Even the state-run Global Times tabloid, known for its often jingoistic and staunchly nationalist editorials, said the presence of the two cruisers brought "no actual threat to China's security."
Koh asked: "Why didn't the Chinese go beyond that given their earlier strong opposition to Washington's professed intent to continue such transits?"
He offered three possible factors. Firstly, Beijing may be wary of "international blowback," as any attempt to curtail US Navy navigation through the strait also threatens the rights of vessels from other nations to go through it.
Secondly, after the Pelosi visit to Taiwan, Beijing suspended key military communications with Washington, raising the risk of misunderstanding during any PLA Navy-US Navy interaction.
Thirdly, there are areas where Washington and Beijing do cooperate, and China may not want to strain those.
Carl Schuster, a former director of operations at the US Pacific Command's Joint Intelligence Center in Hawaii, suggests a fourth possibility. "I think (Chinese leader Xi Jinping) is going to avoid any action that might strengthen the Republicans' and other China hawks' chances in the upcoming elections. He doesn't want a House and Senate that may enact legislation that more strongly supports Taiwan, or limits Chinese investment and influence in the US," Schuster said.