US warship sails through Taiwan Strait on Tiananmen Square anniversary

Teddy Ng

A US navy vessel sailed through the Taiwan Strait on Thursday, the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, the US and Taiwanese militaries have said.

The Taiwan defence ministry said on Friday that the warship had transited the strait the previous day in an “ordinary mission”, and that it had closely monitored the ship.

The US Pacific Fleet also confirmed the transit by USS Russell, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, via its Facebook page, as the United States continued its increased operations through the strait, which have triggered anger in Beijing and added to tensions with Washington.

It comes at a time when mainland China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is stepping up drills aimed at the self-ruled Taiwan.

The PLA’s amphibious tanks are shown storming beaches on Chinese state television on Wednesday. Photo: CCTV

This was the US’ seventh such operation this year, and the first since May 20, when Tsai Ing-wen from the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party was inaugurated for her second term as the island’s president.

Thursday was also a sensitive date in China, marking the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. Commemoration events took place in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

The PLA is holding more amphibious landing and naval drills, which are seen as targeting Taiwan.

On Wednesday, state-run CCTV reported that the PLA 73rd Group Army had conducted live-fire and landing drills, showing amphibious tanks storming beaches in a coordinated attack under rough sea conditions.

In a separate report, CCTV said the PLA 74th Group Army had used a large civilian cargo ship to transport more than 50 tanks, armoured vehicles and infantry fighting vehicles across the sea.

The 73rd and 74th groups, based respectively in the coastal provinces of Fujian and Guangdong, are seen as the main forces for landing missions on Taiwan.

Senior Chinese officials have said Beijing still preferred peaceful unification with Taiwan, which it considers to be a breakaway province.

However, Li Zuocheng, a top PLA general, said that taking Taiwan by force was an option for Beijing and it would take steps to “resolutely smash” separatist moves made by Taiwan.

He said collusion between Taiwan independence forces and foreign forces posed a “great and realistic threat” to the peaceful development of cross-strait relations.

Beijing recently warned Washington it would respond after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo congratulated Tsai on her second term of office, and demanded that the US stop selling arms to the island.

Hong Kong-based military commentator Song Zhongping said that assault landing was the core part of the military preparations needed to try to unify Taiwan with the mainland, and required the PLA to develop the capability.

“If military action is chosen to unify Taiwan, landing capability is not just a psychological deterrent but will turn out to be an actual action,” he said.

“For any army in any country, this is a relatively difficult part of military training. It is necessary to increase training in this area to gain better capabilities, and only by doing this would we be able to ensure success in a future island seizure exercise.”

Additional reporting by Kristin Huang

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