Washington - A French warship passed through the strategic Taiwan Strait this month, U.S. officials told Reuters, a rare voyage by a vessel of a European country that is likely to be welcomed by Washington but increase tensions with Beijing.
The passage is a sign that U.S. allies are increasingly asserting freedom of navigation in international waterways near China. It could open the door for other allies, such as Japan and Australia, to consider similar operations. The French operation comes amid increasing tensions between the United States and China.
Taiwan is one of a growing number of flashpoints in the U.S.-China relationship, which also include a trade war, U.S. sanctions and China’s increasingly muscular military posture in the South China Sea, where the United States also conducts freedom of navigation patrols. Two officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a French military vessel carried out the transit in the narrow waterway between China and Taiwan on April 6.
One of the officials identified the warship as the French frigate Vendemiaire and said it was shadowed by the Chinese military. The official was not aware of any previous French military passage through the Taiwan Strait. The officials said that as a result of the passage, China notified France it was no longer invited to a naval parade to mark the 70 years since the founding of China’s Navy.
Warships from India, Australia and several other nations participated. Colonel Patrik Steiger, the spokesman for France’s military chief of staff, declined to comment on an operational mission. The U.S. officials did not speculate on the purpose of the passage or whether it was designed to assert freedom of navigation.