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Tue, May 23, 2000 - Page 3 News List

Warship skirted Taiwan

HOT WATER The new defense minister confirmed reports that a battle cruiser, possibly from the US passed through the Strait before the inauguration

By Brian Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Minister of National Defense Wu Shih-wen (伍世文) yesterday confirmed media reports that on the eve of the presidential inauguration, a suspected warship from a foreign country passed through the Taiwan Strait under the navy's close watch.

"On May 19, there was indeed a large ship entering the Taiwan Strait. We are not sure whether it was a warship. But it was definitely not a merchant ship," Wu said.

"Our naval monitoring system detected the ship shortly after it came into the Strait. The ship moved southward along the middle line of the Strait. We don't know whether it was a US warship," Wu said.

"Even if the ship was from the US navy, its navigation through the Strait fell within the internationally-accepted `innocent passage.' The ship also stayed in open seas throughout its course through the Strait," Wu said.

Wu made the remarks in response to inquiries from legislators yesterday as he visited the legislative caucuses of different parties on his first day in office.

Quoting a report by the local United Daily News, the lawmakers expressed strong interest in knowing whether the passage of the suspected US warship was meant to ensure peace in the Taiwan Strait during the presidential inauguration period.

The legislators also asked Wu about the reported sighting of three Chinese warships off the island's east coast just one day before the suspected US warship was detected in the Strait.

Wu declined to comment on the motives behind the passage of the suspected US warship through the Strait, saying it was quite normal for naval vessels of various countries to pass through the Strait on the basis of "innocent passage."

As to the rumored sighting of Chinese warships off the eastern coast, Wu said the naval authorities could not find any evidence to confirm the reports.

According to the newspaper report, the ship passing through the Strait was an AEGIS destroyer of the US Seventh Fleet, based in the Pacific.

It quoted unidentified naval officials as saying that the dispatch of the AEGIS ship to the Strait during the sensitive inauguration period carried the same message as the deployment of the battleship Bunker Hill, also an AEGIS ship, to the Strait during the 1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis.

A defense official, who declined to be identified, said the US warship may have entered the Strait only because the weather conditions at the time were better than off the island's east coast.

US warships usually choose routes off Taiwan's east coast if they are destined toward points south or north of Taiwan, the official said. An international passage through Strait waters by a US ship is a strong indication of US support for Taiwan, the official added.

Passages through the Strait are not uncommon, with around one out of every 10 US warships sailing through the Strait if their destination is a point beyond Taiwan, the official said.

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