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International relations

Two US Navy ships pass through Taiwan Strait, opposing China

Maneuver comes ahead of expected Trump-Xi meeting this week

The guided missile destroyer USS Stockdale, seen here in a 2013 photo, passed through the Taiwan Strait on Wednesday.   © Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The United States sent two Navy ships through the Taiwan Strait on Wednesday in the third such operation this year, as the U.S. military increases the frequency of transits through the strategic waterway despite opposition from China.

The voyage risks further heightening tensions with China but will likely be viewed in self-ruled Taiwan as a sign of support from U.S. President Donald Trump's government amid growing friction between Taipei and Beijing.

"The ships' transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific," U.S. Pacific Fleet said in a statement. "The U.S. Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows."

It said the passage was carried out by Stockdale destroyer and Pecos, a replenishment vessel.

The latest move comes ahead of an expected meeting between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping this week in Argentina on the sidelines of a G20 summit.

The U.S. Navy conducted a similar mission in the strait's international waters in July, which had been the first such voyage in about a year.

The latest operation shows the U.S. Navy is increasing the pace of strait passages.

Washington has no formal ties with Taiwan, but is bound by law to help it defend itself and is the island's main source of arms. The Pentagon says Washington has sold Taiwan more than $15 billion in weaponry since 2010.

China has been ramping up pressure to assert its sovereignty over the island, which it considers a breakaway province of "one China."

Taiwan is only 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.

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