Two US Navy warships sailed near South China Sea islands claimed by China on Sunday, drawing condemnation from Beijing, Reuters reports.
According to the report, which cited unidentified US officials, the military vessels came within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Islands over which China has territorial disputes with its neighbors.
The warships carried out maneuvering operations near Tree, Lincoln, Triton and Woody islands in the Paracels, marking the latest US attempt to assert freedom of navigation in the strategic waters.
While the operation had been planned months in advance, it comes at a particularly sensitive time and just days after the Pentagon uninvited China from a major US-hosted naval drill, Reuters noted.
The US military has a long-standing position that its operations are carried out throughout the world, including in areas claimed by allies, and that they are separate from political considerations.
Satellite photographs taken on May 12 showed China appeared to have deployed truck-mounted surface-to-air missiles or anti-ship cruise missiles at Woody Island.
Earlier this month, China’s air force landed bombers on disputed islands and reefs in the South China Sea as part of a training exercise in the region, triggering concern from Vietnam and the Philippines.
The US military did not directly comment on Sunday’s operation, but said US forces operate in the region daily.
“We conduct routine and regular Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs), as we have done in the past and will continue to do in the future,” US Pacific Fleet said in a statement.
China’s Defense Ministry expressed its anger, saying it had sent ships and aircraft to warn the US warships to leave, saying they had entered the country’s territorial waters without permission.
The move “contravened Chinese and relevant international law, seriously infringed upon Chinese sovereignty (and) harmed strategic mutual trust between the two militaries,” it said.
In a separate statement, China’s Foreign Ministry urged the United States to stop such actions.
“China will continue to take all necessary measures to defend the country’s sovereignty and security,” it added, without elaborating.
– Contact us at [email protected]