A garrison with the People’s Liberation Army of China warned and repelled a US Navy Destroyer which navigated near an island under Chinese control in the disputed South China Sea, according to Beijing’s Defense Ministry.
Chinese Defense Ministry Spokesperson Yang Yujun denounced the US operation, which he called a “provocative move.”
Pentagon Spokesperson Jeff Davis said the USS Curtis Wilbur sailed within 12-nautical-miles of Triton Island to uphold freedom-of-navigation laws in the region and to challenge territorial restrictions claimed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam.
“No claimants were notified prior to the transit, which is consistent with our normal process and international law,” Davis said.
The move enraged China which has controlled the island since 1974 following a naval conflict with Vietnam.
The island is known as Zhongjian Dao in China.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying was quoted on state TV as saying the US acted illegally by entering its waters.
The USS Curtis Wilbur’s trip marked the first time the US had challenged China’s territorial claims in the Paracel Islands chain.
A US warship sailed within 12-nautical-miles of Mischief and Subi reefs in the Spatly Islands for similar reasons last October.
Both chains fall within the disputed South China Sea, most of which Beijing claims as its territory. Every year, more than $5 trillion worth of ship-borne goods pass through this region.
China has been raising concern among its neighbors by engaging in a massive land reclamation process in the region to build artificial islands. Some are complete with air strips.
Although Davis insists there were no Chinese military ships in the area during the US operation, Yang says the PLA delivered its warning.
Naval expert Li Jie told the South China Morning Post that the US operation was “a direct challenge” to China’s territorial ambitions.