The US destroyer Benfold passed through the Taiwan Strait in July. Photo: US Navy
A US destroyer USS Benfold in the Taiwan Strait. Photo: US Navy

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry has said it has not received intelligence from the US Navy’s Pacific Fleet saying that the proposed “global show of force” could include a naval drill along the Taiwan Strait.

This is the response after the island’s lawmakers made repeated inquiries of Defense Minister Yen De-fa during the latter’s question-and-answer session at the Legislative Yuan on Tuesday.

US media reported last week that the Pentagon was weighing options to flex its muscles in potentially combustible regions including the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait to serve as a warning to Beijing amid the souring ties between the two powers.

The plan, which was relayed to CNN by several US defense officials, suggested sailing ships and flying aircraft near Chinese-controlled waters in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.

The US Vice-President Mike Pence was quoted by US media as saying that the Pentagon would not rule out the possibility of a drill in the strait.

The US Navy reportedly proposed the plan days after the Chinese destroyer the Lanzhou sailed as close as 41 meters from the US destroyer Decatur near the Beijing-claimed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea at the end of September.

“The US has not made any comments on such reports,” Yen said, adding that he believed the show of force “would not necessarily be a large military drill.”

Taiwanese Premier William Lai also told lawmakers that a US vice president would not make military decisions.

Meanwhile, it is believed that Washington’s de facto embassy in Taipei, the American Institute in Taiwan, has established channels to liaise with the Taiwanese military if such a drill is to take place.

The last time the US dispatched its warships to the Taiwan Strait was in early July, when two US destroyers, Mustin and Benfold of the Pacific Fleet, sailed through the waterway separating Taiwan from the mainland of China.

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said back then that it had been notified by the Pentagon well before the passage and that the sail was proof of Washington’s security guarantee.

The last time a US aircraft carrier was spotted in the strait was in November 2007 when the conventionally powered Kitty Hawk spent more than a day cruising through the 300-kilometer channel, after Beijing denied the carrier’s scheduled port call to Hong Kong.

Some observers argue that the latest show of force is aimed at boosting the Republican Party’s approval rating ahead of the midterm elections on November 6, and that the talk of such a drill may also help Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party in the Taipei mayoral and regional elections later that month.

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