For the first time since 2008, Britain deployed a warship through the Taiwan Strait on Monday, challenging Beijing’s claim to the critical waterway and marking a rare passage by a non-US military vessel.
HMS Richmond, a frigate which is part of the UK’s aircraft carrier strike group, went through the strait on its way from Japan to Vietnam, according to the British military ministry.
“Wherever the Royal Navy operate, they do so in full compliance with international law,” the ministry said in a statement.
“The UK has a range of enduring security interests in the Indo-Pacific and many important bilateral defence relationships, this deployment is a sign of our commitment to regional security,” it added.
It was the first time one of Britain’s warships had navigated the tight channel separating Taiwan and mainland China since HMS Kent did so in 2008.
US warships regularly conduct “freedom of navigation” exercises in the strait and trigger angry responses from Beijing, which claims Taiwan and surrounding waters — and almost all of the South China Sea.
The United States and the majority of other countries regard those areas as international seas that should be accessible to all ships.
China’s initial response to the British warship’s passage was muted on Monday.
Until recently, the United States was the only world power willing to cross the Taiwan Strait.
However, as Beijing escalates its military threats against Taiwan and consolidates its authority over the disputed South China Sea, a growing number of US allies have used the route.
In recent years, Canadian, French, and Australian warships have all sailed through the Taiwan Strait, provoking Chinese protests.
Chiu Kuo-cheng, Taiwan’s defense minister, confirmed to reporters that a foreign warship had passed through the strait, but did not specify whose country it belonged to.
Taiwan’s 23 million people live under constant threat of invasion by authoritarian China, which has vowed to seize the island one day — by force if necessary.
Since the election of President Tsai Ing-wen in 2016, Beijing has increased military, diplomatic, and economic pressure on Taiwan. Tsai believes the island is already independent.
Chinese military jets made a record 380 incursions into Taiwan’s defense zone last year, and the number of incursions so far this year has already surpassed 400.