US navy flies aircraft through the Taiwan Strait a day after US-China defense chiefs hold rare talks

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — The U.S. 7th Fleet said a Navy P-8A Poseidon flew through the Taiwan Strait on Wednesday, a day after U.S. and Chinese defense chiefs held their first talks since November 2022 in an effort to reduce regional tensions.

The patrol and reconnaissance plane “transited the Taiwan Strait in international airspace,” the 7th Fleet said in a news release.

“By operating within the Taiwan Strait in accordance with international law, the United States upholds the navigational rights and freedoms of all nations,” the release said.

The critical strait is 160 kilometers (100 mile) wide and divides China from the self-governing island democracy. Although it's in international waters, China considers the passage of foreign military aircraft and ships through it a challenge to its sovereignty.

China claims the island of Taiwan, threatening to defend it by force if necessary despite U.S. military support for the island.

China scrambled fighter jets to “monitor the U.S. plane's passage” and operated "in accordance of laws and regulations, naval Col. Li Xi, spokesperson for the Chinese People's Liberation Army's Eastern Theater Command, said in a report on the command's official Weibo social media site.

“Theater troops are on high alert at all times to resolutely safeguard national sovereignty and security as well as regional peace and stability,” Li said.

China routinely issues stern protests and activates defenses in response to the passage of ships and military planes through the straight, particularly those from the U.S.

China also regularly sends navy ships and warplanes into the strait and other areas around the island to wear down Taiwan's defenses and seek to intimidate its 23 million people, who firmly back their de facto independence.

“By operating within the Taiwan Strait in accordance with international law, the United States upholds the navigational rights and freedoms of all nations. The aircraft’s transit of the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the United States’ commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. The United States military flies, sails and operates anywhere international law allows," the 7th Fleet statement said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with his Chinese counterpart, Adm. Dong Jun, on Tuesday in the latest U.S. effort to improve communications with the Chinese military and reduce the chances of a clash in the region.

It was the first time Austin has talked to Dong and the first time he has spoken at length with any Chinese counterpart since November 2022. The call, which lasted a bit more than an hour, came as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to travel to China this month for talks.

Military-to-military contact stalled in August 2022, when Beijing suspended all such communication after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan. China responded by firing missiles over Taiwan and staging a surge in military maneuvers, including what appeared to be a rehearsal of a naval and aerial blockade of the island.