The U.S. Navy on Tuesday sent a guided missile destroyer within 12 miles of a disputed island in the South China Sea where China has built an airstrip — prompting China to scramble fighter jets and dispatch warships to “expel” the American ship.

“USS William P. Lawrence exercised the right of innocent passage while transiting inside 12 nautical miles of Fiery Cross Reef, a high-tide feature that is occupied by China, but also claimed by the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam,” a Pentagon statement said.

“This operation challenged attempts by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam to restrict navigation rights around the features they claim … contrary to international law,” the statement continued.

Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, 12 nautical miles is considered the limit at which a nation’s rule extends off its shores.

The Law of the Sea defines “innocent passage” as a transit in which a ship does not conduct any military, commercial or research activities.

The Pentagon statement said the U.S. did not notify any of the countries involved about the destroyer’s transit in advance.

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