May 19, 2024

The US and Taiwanese navies conducted secret exercises in the Pacific in April, sources said.

The U.S. and Taiwanese navies held joint exercises in the Pacific in April that were not officially held, according to four people familiar with the matter.

Washington and Taipei have expanded their military cooperation in recent years, with near-daily incursions into Taiwan’s air defense zone and Chinese forces conducting exercises near the island.

US and Taiwanese military involvement, including visits and training, is not disclosed and often not officially confirmed, as China rejects any military ties between Washington and Taipei. China claims to democratically rule Taiwan as its own territory, which the island firmly rejects.

The exercises, which have not been made public, took place in the western Pacific last month, sources said.

A source said “several military units” were involved. A second source is that the exercises are not official and are referred to as “unplanned naval encounters”, indicating a tacit agreement in which both sides claim that the exercises are the result of chance encounters.

“It’s like I’m eating at this restaurant and you were here too,” the source said. “So it looks like I’m sharing the same table with someone.”

About half a dozen naval vessels from both sides, including warships and supply and support vessels, took part in day-long exercises designed to practice “basic” operations such as communications, refueling and resupply, the source said.

Taiwan’s navy said in a statement to Reuters that the navy is in line with the “US-sponsored Unplanned Encounters at Sea Code,” also known as CUES, to deal with unexpected scenarios at sea and minimize mutual “disturbances.”

“The Navy frequently interacts with ships of other nations and conducts encounter exercises when necessary,” the statement said, without elaborating.

The Pentagon declined to comment.

Taiwan and the United States do not have official diplomatic relations because Washington, while formally recognizing Beijing, is legally obligated to provide Taiwan with means of self-defense and is the island’s main international supporter.

A third source said that while the “unplanned encounters” between the two navies were mostly basic exercises, such exercises were necessary to ensure that the two militaries could work together in times of need.

CUES was created over a decade ago to reduce tensions between forces at sea. These include guidelines for safe speeds and distances, common communication language and actions to take in the event of a vessel failure.

Taiwan Navy Chief Tang Hua visited the United States last month to discuss strengthening bilateral maritime cooperation, Reuters reported. China’s foreign ministry said it strongly opposes “military cooperation” between the US and Taiwan.

This month, Taiwan’s chief of staff, Admiral Mee Hsia-shu, attended a change-of-command ceremony for the US Indo-Pacific Command in Hawaii, revealed only when he appeared in an official photograph in the audience.

China has long claimed that Taiwan is China’s most important territorial issue, a major bone of contention in Sino-US relations.

Beijing has not given up on using force to bring Taiwan under its control, while Taipei says Chinese territorial claims are invalid because the People’s Republic of China does not rule the island. (Reporting by Reuters; Editor: Gerry Doyle)