Amid unprecedented Chinese military drills surrounding Taiwan, a top defense official said the US will carry out Taiwan Strait transits and freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) in waters claimed by China.
Colin Kahl, the undersecretary for defense policy, said the Navy is expected to send warships on FONOPS in the coming days. “We will continue to stand by our allies and partners. So even as China tries to kind of chip away at the status quo, our policy is to maintain the status quo with [a] free and open Indo-Pacific which, frankly, is [what] I think most of the countries in the region would prefer,” Kahl said.
Beijing routinely denounces FONOPs and armed sail-throughs in the Taiwan Strait, seeing them as examples of American meddling in its own internal affairs. The US has increased its military activity in the region under the Biden administration, leading to increased tensions with Xi’s government.
Beijing has carried out several military exercises in the waters around Taiwan since US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a high-profile visit to Taipei last week. China views Pelosi’s trip as a violation of the ‘One China’ policy that has underpinned the Washington-Beijing relationship for decades, under which Beijing insists no foreign nations have direct diplomatic ties with the island, seeing it as part of its own territory.
China currently has 13 warships in waters off Taiwan’s shores, and has taken several other unprecedented steps in recent days, such as sending warplanes over the median line in the Taiwan Strait and firing missiles over the island. A Chinese defense official warned the drills could become real military operations at any point.
Taiwan has responded to Beijing’s war games with its own drills, recently kicking off two days of military exercises involving 700 troops firing live rounds.
Despite the increased Chinese military activity targeting Taiwan, both Pelosi and Kahl have defended the speaker’s trip to Taipei. On Tuesday, Pelosi said the visit was “absolutely” worth it, while Kahl claimed “Legislatures from around the world go to Taiwan. Our Congress is an independent body of our government. Nothing about the visit changed one iota of the US government’s policy toward Taiwan or towards China.”