Beijing is already threatening retaliation over Washington's expected sale of dozens of F-16s and tanks to Taiwan. But as if ties between the world's two largest economies hadn't already been sufficiently strained, the Navy and Coast Guard again provoked the Chinese leadership on Sunday when they sailed two ships - identified as the Navy destroyer Curtis Wilbur and the Coast Guard cutter Bertholf - through the Strait of Taiwan.
According to Reuters, the gesture, which is part of a redoubled US effort to flex its muscles near Chinese waters, should be interpreted - like other 'freedom of navigation' operations before it - as a sign of support for Taiwan, which is struggling with an increasingly threatening Beijing. The Chinese military has been holding more military drills and missions around the island, as President Xi has made bringing the wayward province back under Beijing's thumb a top priority for his rule.
Sunday's mission coincided with a trip abroad by Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who will stop in Hawaii later this week following a tour of the Pacific.
The US was unrepentant about the mission, saying it was intended to demonstrate that the Indo-Pacific remains free and open.
"The ships’ transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific," the statement said.
"The U.S. will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows," it added.
Meanwhile, China's foreign ministry said it had paid "close attention" to the meeting:
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters in Beijing that China had already lodged “representations” with the United States, and that it had paid “close attention” to the U.S. ships.
China urges the United States to “cautiously and appropriately handle the Taiwan issue to avoid harming Sino-U.S. relations and peace and stability in the Taiwan strait”, Geng said.
Beijing has been ratcheting up the pressure on Taiwan, convincing several central American countries to switch their allegiance from Taipei to Beijing, and taking other steps to isolate the island diplomatically. However, Tsai has insisted that the Taiwanese would never accept a "one country, two systems" arrangement with Beijing like that of Hong Kong.
Yet, Beijing has warned that any country that interferes with its relationship with Taiwan could face the wrath of the Chinese military.