On Monday, two warships from the U.S. Navy — a guided missile cruiser and a guided missile destroyer — sailed through the Taiwan Strait. It was the second such operation since July and comes after Reuters reported that Washington was considering a new operation for warships to pass through the strategic area.
In a sharply-worded editorial published Tuesday, the state-run China Daily newspaper accused President Donald Trump's administration of sending a "message of assurance" to Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and "playing a high stakes game backing Taipei."
The presence of U.S. vessels in the Taiwan Strait — part of Washington's freedom of navigation operations in Asia — was intended as a "warning" to Beijing, the media outlet added.
The Taiwan Strait separates the self-ruled island of Taiwan from China. Like the South China Sea, it is a hot-button area for Chinese President Xi Jinping's government, which claims Taipei under a policy known as "One China" and opposes countries pursuing relations with the East Asian state.
Washington doesn't have official ties with Taipei but incurred Beijing's anger this year by strengthening relations with Tsai, reflected by arms sales and upgrades to a new facility that operates as the de-facto U.S. embassy in Taipei.
"Military hawks in Washington have tried hard to scare Beijing and console Taipei," the China Daily editorial said. "But they should consider the dire consequences of their country being dragged into a costly confrontation that would in the first place be both unnecessary and avoidable," it warned.
It's the latest sign of escalating tensions between the world's two largest economies, whose relationship has turned fragile amid a bitter trade dispute that's threatening to hurt other aspects of bilateral ties.