- The Washington Times - Monday, February 25, 2019

The U.S. flexed its military muscle in the contentious waters of the Pacific on Monday, deploying a pair of warships through the Taiwan Straits in a show of force to China just two days before a critical summit between Washington and Pyongyang gets underway in Vietnam.

The Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Stethem and the USNS Cesar Chavez, a combat cargo vessel, traversed the waterways between the Chinese and Taiwanese coastlines in a “freedom of navigation” mission designed to challenge China’s expansive claims to sovereignty over Taiwan and the South China Sea.

“The ships’ transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” officials from U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement. The voyage was the second such operation in the Taiwan Straits ordered by the Pentagon in as many months.

The USS McCampbell, a guided missile destroyer, and the Henry J. Kaiser-class fleet replenishment oiler USNS Walter S. Diehl conducted a similar “freedom of navigation” operation through the Straits in late January.

That same month, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said the Pentagon is weighing the deployment of an aircraft carrier through the Straits for the first time.

Navy leaders insist there are no limitations within international law that would prevent Washington from undertaking such missions.

Chinese President Xi Jinping stated outright in January that his goal is eventually to absorb Taiwan and that China could use “force” to achieve the goal if necessary.

Mr. Xi’s comments came a day after Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen vowed the democracy-oriented island will resist the sort of forced reunification being pushed by Beijing.

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