A U.S. Navy destroyer sailed near islands claimed by China in the South China Sea on Friday, drawing a warning from Chinese warships to leave the area.
The U.S. action was the latest attempt to counter what Washington sees as Beijing’s efforts to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters, U.S. officials said.
The Chinese Defense Ministry called the move “illegal” and “provocative,” saying that two Chinese warships had warned the U.S. destroyer to leave.
The guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur challenged “excessive maritime claims” near the Paracel Islands, among a string of islets, reefs and shoals over which China has territorial disputes with its neighbors, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The latest U.S. patrol, first reported by Reuters, is expected to anger Beijing and could further escalate tensions over the South China Sea. The destroyer sailed within waters claimed by China, close to but not within the 12-nautical-mile territorial limits of the islands, the officials said.
The Pentagon said the Decatur “conducted this transit in a routine, lawful manner without ship escorts and without incident.” One official said the ship, which sailed near Triton and Woody Islands, was shadowed by three Chinese vessels and that all interactions were safe.