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The Stethem, 1 of 2 U.S. destroyers in the Taiwan Strait this week. File photo: VCG/VCG via Getty Images

The Navy said Sunday it sent 2 warships to the Taiwan Strait to demonstrate "U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific," risking raising tensions with China ahead of trade talks resuming between Washington and Beijing.

Why it matters: Taiwan is one of several flashpoints in the U.S.-China relationship. China regards the self-ruled Taiwan as a breakaway province. The voyage of the William P. Lawrence and Stethem destroyers Sunday and Monday marks the 6th time in 7 months U.S. ships have sailed in the strait dividing Taiwan from the Chinese mainland.

The big picture: The show of military strength comes as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and trade representative Robert Lighthizer prepare to attend the next round of talks in Beijing, starting Tuesday. They'll cover issues including intellectual property, forced technology transfer, non-tariff barriers, agriculture, services, purchases, and enforcement, according to a White House statement.

What they're saying: Mnuchin told the New York Times Sunday that negotiations are entering a critical point. "I think both sides have a desire to reach an agreement," he told the Times. "We’ve made a lot of progress." President Trump could still walk away from the talks, Bloomberg reports, citing an unnamed senior Trump administration official.

Go deeper

52 mins ago - World

Maximum pressure campaign escalates with Fakhrizadeh killing

Photo: Fars News Agency via AP

The assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the architect of Iran’s military nuclear program, is a new height in the maximum pressure campaign led by the Trump administration and the Netanyahu government against Iran.

Why it matters: It exceeds the capture of the Iranian nuclear archives by the Mossad, and the sabotage in the advanced centrifuge facility in Natanz.

Scoop: Biden weighs retired General Lloyd Austin for Pentagon chief

Lloyd Austin testifying before Congress in 2015. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Joe Biden is considering retired four-star General Lloyd Austin as his nominee for defense secretary, adding him to a shortlist that includes Jeh Johnson, Tammy Duckworth and Michele Flournoy, two sources with direct knowledge of the decision-making tell Axios.

Why it matters: A nominee for Pentagon chief was noticeably absent when the president-elect rolled out his national security team Tuesday. Flournoy had been widely seen as the likely pick, but Axios is told other factors — race, experience, Biden's comfort level — have come into play.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: WHO: AstraZeneca vaccine must be evaluated on "more than a press release."
  2. Politics: Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York COVID restrictions.
  3. World: Thailand, Philippines sign deal with AstraZeneca for vaccine.
  4. Economy: Safety nets to disappear in December Black Friday shopping across the U.S., in photosAmazon hires 1,400 workers a day throughout pandemic.
  5. Education: National standardized tests delayed until 2022.