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Two US navy ships sail though Taiwan Strait as Guam drills begin

The USS Blue Ridge during a call in Hong Kong on April 20, 2019. The 7th Fleet flagship is leading "Operation Vanguard" near Guam
AFP/File
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Taipei (AFP)

Two American warships sailed through the Taiwan Strait, the US navy said Thursday, as Washington also kicked off multinational naval drills near Guam in operations bound to provoke a rebuke from Beijing.

The navy said the USS Preble, a destroyer, and USNS Walter S. Diehl, a supply ship, conducted a routine transit "in accordance with international law".

"The ships' transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific," the navy said.

"The U.S. Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows."

US warships periodically conduct "freedom of navigation" exercises in the narrow waterway separating the Chinese mainland and Taiwan, triggering angry responses from Beijing every time.

Beijing views any ships passing through the strait as essentially breaching its sovereignty, while the US and many other nations view the route as international waters open to all.

The transit comes as the US, Japan, South Korea and Australia kicked off operation "Pacific Vanguard" near Guam, bringing together more than 3,000 sailors from the four countries.

Drills will focus on "live fire exercises, defensive counter-air operations, anti-submarine warfare, and replenishment at sea," the US 7th Fleet said.

In April, Beijing said its navy warned off a French warship that had entered the Taiwan Strait and lodged an official complaint with Paris.

China sees Taiwan as part of its territory to be reunified, despite the two sides being ruled separately since the end of a civil war on the mainland in 1949.

The US diplomatically recognises China over Taiwan, but remains the island's chief military ally and arms supplier.

For the Guam naval drills, Australia has contributed two frigates, Japan two destroyers and South Korea one destroyer. The USS Blue Ridge, the 7th Fleet's flagship, will lead the operation from the US side.

Home to more than 160,000 people, Guam was at the centre of nuclear tensions between Washington and Pyongyang in 2017, with North Korea threatening to hit the US territory with "enveloping fire".

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