(US Navy photo)

Two US Navy warships sailed through the Taiwan Strait on Feb. 25, 2019, sending a message to Beijing, which has warned the US to "tread lightly" in the closely watched waterway.

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem and the supply ship USNS Cesar Chavez navigated a "routine" Taiwan Strait transit Feb. 25, 2019, the US Pacific Fleet told Business Insider in an emailed statement.

"The ships' transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. The US Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows," the Pacific Fleet said.


The two US Navy vessels that passed through the Taiwan Strait were apparently shadowed by People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) warships.

The passage is the fourth since October 2018 and the fifth since the US Navy restarted the practice of sending surface combatants through the strait July 2018.

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Marcus D. Mince)

The Taiwan Strait is a roughly 80-mile international waterway that separates the democratic island from the communist mainland, and China regularly bristles when US Navy vessels sail through. When a US destroyer and a fleet oiler transited the strait in January 2019, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the passage "provocative behavior," accusing the US of "threatening the safety" of those nearby.

Beijing considers Taiwan, a self-ruled territory, to be a renegade province, and it firmly opposes US military support for the island, be that arms sales, protection assurances, or even just the US military operating in the area. China fears that US actions will embolden pro-independence forces in Taiwan that want to declare it a sovereign state separate from China.

China has repeatedly urged the US to keep its distance from Taiwan, but the US Navy has continued its "routine" trips through the strait. "We see the Taiwan Strait as another (stretch of) international waters, so that's why we do the transits," Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said in January 2019.

The rhetoric used by the Navy to characterize the Taiwan Strait transits is almost identical to that used to describe US freedom-of-navigation operations (FONOPs) in the South China Sea.

The Navy has already conducted two FONOPs this year, angering Beijing both times.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.