Taiwan says Australian warship sailed through Taiwan Strait

TAIPEI (Reuters) -Taiwan said on Friday that an Australian warship had sailed through the Taiwan Strait, the sensitive and narrow waterway that separates the democratically governed island from China.

The ship, which it did not name, entered the strait on Thursday and sailed in a southerly direction, the ministry said.

Taiwan’s military kept watch throughout, the ministry said, without giving details.

The Australian government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Euan Graham, a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said the Australian navy has previously transited through the Taiwan Strait but “choose not to publicise it”.

The sailing happens at a difficult time in Australia-China military relations even as the two countries seek to get ties back on track.

Last week, Canberra complained of an incident involving a Chinese warship and an Australian navy vessel in Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in which an Australian military diver was injured.

The U.S. Navy sends ships through the strait around once a month in what it calls “routine” transits.

China regularly objects to these.

Taiwan has over the past four years complained of repeated Chinese military activity around the island, especially in the strait.

Taiwan, whose government rejects China’s sovereignty claims, is gearing up for presidential and parliamentary elections on Jan. 13.

The Australian navy transits through the Taiwan Strait because it is the shortest route between the East China Sea and South China Sea, said Graham.

“It is just exercising international passage rights through that strait. It is not a contentious area of international law – it’s just that China chooses to make an issue out of it,” he said.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Kirsty Needham in Sydney; editing by Diane Craft and Stephen Coates)