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Australian warship sails through Taiwan Strait


Taiwan said on Friday that an Australian warship had sailed through the Taiwan Strait, the sensitive and narrow waterway that separates the democratically governed island from China.

The island’s defence ministry did not name the ship but said it entered the strait on Thursday and sailed through it in a southerly direction, adding that Taiwan’s military kept watch throughout. It gave no more details.

An Australian official confirmed the ship, the Toowoomba, transited the international waters of the Taiwan Strait as part of its regional deployment.

Euan Graham, a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said the Australian navy has regularly transited through the Taiwan Strait but “choose not to publicise it”.

The sailing has come at a difficult time in Australia-China military relations even as the two countries seek to get ties back on track.

Last week, Canberra complained of an incident involving a Chinese warship and the same Australian navy vessel in Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone in which an Australian military diver was injured.

The U.S. Navy sends ships through the strait around once a month in what it calls “routine” transits. China routinely objects to the voyages.

Graham said the Australian navy transits through the Taiwan Strait because it is the shortest route between the East China Sea and South China Sea, and he warned against reading too much into the timing of the latest sailing.

“It’s a befitting coincidence but shouldn’t be misinterpreted as Australia going out of its way to make a point to China, after the sonar incident,” he said.

“Transits through the Taiwan Strait shouldn’t be controversial, just lawfully going from the East China Sea to the South China Sea via the shortest route.”

Taiwan has over the past four years complained of repeated Chinese military activity around the island, especially in the strait.

Taiwan, which rejects China’s sovereignty claims, is gearing up for presidential and parliamentary elections on Jan. 13.

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