Earlier this year, I wrote about the striking similarities between President Biden’s China strategy and President Trump’s strategy. Namely, President Biden stated he would continue to make a “free and open Indo-Pacific” a top U.S. priority. In early February, the U.S.S. John S. McCain conducted the first Strait of Taiwan transit of the Biden Administration. Such transits had increased in frequency under President Trump, and President Biden’s strategy indicated his willingness to continue to challenge China’s regional dominance.
Under international law, sovereign nations are permitted to exercise control over their territorial waters. For years, China has asserted territorial claims to a number of uninhabited and artificial islands in the South China Sea. Both the U.S. and the United Nations refute China’s claims. Just as it did during the Trump Administration, and consistent with international law, the U.S. Navy continues to conduct freedom of navigation operations in order to deter and contest China’s territorial claims in the region. Indeed, China now complains that U.S. military activity in the region has increased significantly under President Biden.
On May 18, the guided-missile destroyer, U.S.S. Curtis Wilbur transited the Strait of Taiwan, demonstrating America’s ongoing commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. The Chinese government protested the passage as an act of provocation and a show of support for Taiwanese independence.
The following day, a U.S. Navy carrier strike group, led by the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan, departed Japan for a deployment to the Indo-Pacific region. Although it could not disclose specific routes and ports of call, the U.S. Navy stated the carrier strike group’s mission is to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific.
Although the Biden Administration insists the U.S. Navy’s actions are intended to avoid conflict demonstrate its commitment to peace in the region, Taiwan’s foreign minister believes China is preparing for war. Some commentators question whether President Biden’s strategy, like those of his two predecessors, will be enough to deter China’s regional and global ambitions. But for now, and despite the escalating tensions, American activity in the region has staved off military action.