US Navy research vessel docks in Taiwan amid China tensions

BEIJING (AP) — A U.S. Navy research vessel has docked in Taiwan amid tensions with China over trade and arms sales.

Taiwan’s official Central News Agency says the Thomas G. Thompson arrived in the southern port of Kaohsiung on Monday to refuel and make crew changes. It quoted Defense Minister Yen De-fa as saying its visit is “unrelated to military activity.”

China objects to all governmental and military contact between the U.S. and Taiwan, which it claims as part of its territory to be conquered by force if necessary.

In Beijing on Wednesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said China was “expressing our solemn concerns to the U.S. side” over the visit.

China “opposes all kinds of military contacts between the U.S. and Taiwan,” Lu said. The U.S. should “stop all forms of official exchanges and military interactions with Taiwan, and handle the Taiwan-related issues with caution,” he said.

Though it’s not the first time the Thomas G. Thompson has stopped in Taiwan, this visit comes during a particularly sensitive time in U.S.-China relations.

China has demanded the U.S. cancel a $330 million sale of spare parts and related support for Taiwan’s U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets and other military aircraft. While Washington has no official relations with Taiwan, it is legally obligated to ensure it has the means to defend itself.

The arms sale was announced amid a trade feud fueled by U.S. accusations that China runs an abnormally large surplus with the U.S., engages in cyber-theft and coerces foreign companies into handing over technology.

That has led the U.S. to impose punitive tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese imports. Beijing has counterpunched with import taxes on $110 billion of American products.

The two have also feuded over Chinese weapons purchases from Russia and China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea — where the U.S. says a Chinese destroyer came aggressively close to a U.S. Navy ship late last month, forcing it to maneuver to prevent a collision.

China’s relations with Taiwan are largely frozen because the president of the self-governing democracy, Tsai Ing-wen, refuses to concede to Beijing’s demand that she recognize the island as a part of China. That’s led Beijing to use its influence to narrow Taiwan’s ability to participate in international society and increase its military threat toward it.

The Thomas G. Thompson is owned by the U.S. Office of Naval Research and operated in cooperation with the University of Washington.

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