Taipei — China bristled on Monday over Britain's decision to send a Royal Navy warship sailing through the sensitive Taiwan Strait, saying the act "harbored evil intentions." Chinaas its own territory, and has increased pressure on the small island in recent years to accept Beijing as its capital.
The Royal Navy announced that the HMS Richmond, a frigate deployed as part of a U.K. aircraft carrier strike group, was sailing through the Taiwan Strait on Monday in a move that challenges Beijing's claim to the sensitive waterway.
"After a busy period working with partners and allies in the East China Sea, we are now en route through the Taiwan Strait to visit Vietnam and the Vietnam People's Navy," read a tweet from the official account for HMS Richmond.
Local media said it was the first time a British warship had transited through the narrow waterway separating Taiwan and mainland China, however the British navy survey ship HMS Enterprise transited through the strait in 2019.
The U.K. defense ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
U.S. warships conduct regular "freedom of navigation" exercises in the strait, all of which trigger angry responses from Beijing, which claims not only Taiwan but the surrounding waters, along with almost all of the South China Sea, as its territory.
The U.S. and most other countries view those areas as international waters that should be open to all vessels.
China's initial response to the British warship's passage was muted on Monday, with foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying telling reporters that Beijing hoped "the relevant countries can do more to build mutual trust between countries and uphold peace and security in the region."
But shortly after, the Chinese army's Eastern Theater Command said it had sent air and naval forces to shadow the Richmond and warn it to leave the strait.
"This kind of behavior harbors evil intentions and damages peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait," the army statement said. "Theater command forces always maintain a high level of alert and resolutely counter all threats and provocations."
Until recently, Washington was the main global power willing to sail through the Taiwan Strait. But a growing number of U.S. allies have transited the route as Beijing intensifies its military threats towards Taiwan and solidifies its control over the disputed South China Sea.
Canadian, French and Australian warships have all made voyages through the Taiwan Strait in recent years, sparking protests from China.
Taiwan's defence minister Chiu Kuo-cheng confirmed to reporters that a foreign vessel had sailed through the waterway but did not state which country it was from.
Taiwan's 23 million people live under constant threat of invasion by authoritarian China, which has vowed to seize the island one day —.
Beijing has stepped up military, diplomatic and economic pressure on Taiwan since the election of President Tsai Ing-wen in 2016, who views the island as "already independent."
Last year, Chinese military jets made a record 380 incursions into Taiwan's defense zone, and the number of incursions for the first eight months of this year has already exceeded 400.
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