When the US sailed a guided-missile destroyer through the Taiwan Strait, China’s Ministry of Defense accused the US of creating “security risks” and upsetting the balance of the strait. It also tagged the US as a “destroyer of peace” due to the activity in the disputed area.

Colonel Shi Yi, a spokesman for the People’s Liberation Army Eastern Theatre Command, claimed in a press statement that China could track the guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold of the US 7th Fleet from the sea and the sky while it was transiting in the Taiwan Strait. In line with the occasion, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theater Command has deployed naval and aviation units to supervise and oversee the transit of the US Destroyer.

“The frequent provocations and shows by the United States fully demonstrate that the United States is a destroyer of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and a maker of security risks in the Taiwan Strait,” said Colonel Shi Yi in a statement, adding that “The theater troops maintain high alert at all times and resolutely defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

The US conducts a routine naval presence over the 180-kilometer-wide Taiwan Strait to demonstrate support for Taiwan, a self-governing democracy disputed by China, and to uphold international law regarding the rights of passage. The Taiwan Straits are one of the most important trade routes in the world with more than $3.4 Trillion in goods passing through it each year.

TAIWAN STRAIT (April 23, 2020) Seaman Xi Chan stands on the flight deck as the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Barry (DDG 52) transits the Taiwan Strait during routine underway operations. (Source: Official U.S. Navy PageCC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) defines a nation’s sovereign territorial seas as extending 12 nautical miles (22.2 kilometers) from its shore. The law also argues that as long as the ship does not engage in certain illegal activities while in transit, such as conducting weapons tests, espionage, smuggling, or seriously polluting the environment, fishing, or scientific study, the ship is not breaking any laws.

The US 7th Fleet has been quoted as saying multiple times that its passage through the contested Taiwan Strait was carried out “in accordance with international law” and also “through a corridor in the Strait that is beyond the territorial sea of any coastal state” the latter expressed an implicit assumption that China is being alluded to the statement.