A U.S. Navy destroyer has sailed within 12 nautical miles of an island claimed by China and two other states in the South China Sea to counter efforts to limit freedom of navigation, the Pentagon said.
China claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion of world trade is shipped every year. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims.
Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said no ships from China's military were in the vicinity of the guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur when it passed near Triton Island in the Paracel Islands on Saturday.
"This operation challenged attempts by the three claimants - China, Taiwan and Vietnam - to restrict navigation rights and freedoms," Davis said, reflecting the U.S. position that the crucial sea lane should be treated as international waters.
The Navy conducted a similar exercise in October in which the guided-missile destroyer Lassen sailed close to one of China's manmade islands, drawing a rebuke from Beijing.