A US Navy research vessel has docked in Taiwan amid tensions with China over trade and arms sales.
Taiwan’s official Central News Agency says the Thomas G Thompson arrived in the southern port of Kaohsiung on Monday to refuel and make crew changes. It quoted Defense Minister Yen De-fa as saying its visit is “unrelated to military activity.” Chinaobjects to all governmental and military contact between the US and Taiwan, which it claims as part of its territory to be conquered by force if necessary.
Though it’s not the first time the Thomas G Thompson has stopped in Taiwan, this visit comes during a particularly sensitive time in US-China relations.
China has demanded the US cancel a USD 330 million sale of spare parts and related support for Taiwan’s US-made F-16 fighter jets and other military aircraft. While Washington has no official relations with Taiwan, it is legally obligated to ensure it has the means to defend itself.
The arms sale was announced amid a trade feud fuelled by US accusations that China runs an abnormally large surplus with the US, engages in cyber-theft and coerces foreign companies into handing over technology.
That has led the US to impose punitive tariffs on USD 250 billion in Chinese imports. Beijing has counterpunched with import taxes on USD 110 billion of American products.
The two have also feuded over Chinese weapons purchases from Russia and China’s territorial claims in the South ChinaSea where the US says a Chinese destroyer came aggressively close to a US Navy ship late last month, forcing it to maneuver to prevent a collision.
China’s relations with Taiwan are largely frozen because the president of the self-governing democracy, Tsai Ing-wen, refuses to concede to Beijing’s demand that she recognize the island as a part of China.That’s led Beijing to use its influence to narrow Taiwan’s ability to participate in international society and increase its military threat toward it.
The Thomas G Thompson is owned by the US Office of Naval Research and operated in cooperation with the University of Washington.