A US navy warship sailed close to a disputed reef in the South China Sea on Tuesday, Reuters reported.
The freedom of navigation operation by the USS William P. Lawrence, travelling within 12 nautical miles of Chinese-occupied Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands, was to “challenge excessive maritime claims of some claimants in the South China Sea”, Defense Department spokesman Bill Urban said.
The maneuver came days after China warned that criticism of its claims would rebound like a coiled spring.
“These excessive maritime claims are inconsistent with international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention in that they purport to restrict the navigation rights that the United States and all states are entitled to exercise,” Urban said in an emailed statement.
“No claimants were notified prior to the transit, which is consistent with our normal process and international law.”
Facilities on Fiery Cross Reef include a 3,000-meter runway, and Washington is concerned China will use it to press its extensive territorial claims at the expense of weaker rivals.
The Pentagon called on China last month to reaffirm it has no plans to deploy military aircraft in the disputed Spratly Islands after Beijing used a military plane to evacuate sick workers from the Fiery Cross airstrip.
China has reacted with anger to previous US freedom of navigation operations and says that there has never been a problem with freedom of navigation or overflight in the South China Sea.
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