U.S. warship sails through Taiwan Strait amid heightened China tensions

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TAIPEI, March 26 (Reuters) – An American warship passed through the sensitive Taiwan Strait on Wednesday, US and Taiwanese military organizations said, following increased tensions between China and Taiwan that have seen Taiwanese air force jets fight to cut off Chinese fighters.

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

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It described sailing as a "regular mission" and said there was no cause for alarm.

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 America's commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. The US Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law permits," he said.

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Taiwan is China's most sensitive territorial and diplomatic cause, 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 conducted several drills near Taiwan, prompting Taiwan's mostly US-equipped military to encrypt fighters to intercept and alert the Chinese aircraft.

Taiwan has called the Chinese drills provocative and has asked China to pay more attention to fighting the spread of the corona virus rather than threatening Taiwan.

The United States, like most countries, has no official relations with Taiwan, but is the island's most important international supporter and 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 slipping on a platform to stand against China.

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

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"Everyone knows that even though there is currently an intense epidemic situation, the Chinese Communist military aircraft continue to harass Taiwan; their threat to Taiwan and regional security has not gone down," she said. (Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional Reporting by Idrees Ali in Washington. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

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