A U.S. Navy destroyer sailed near a disputed shoal claimed by China in the South China Sea this week, U.S. officials said and Beijing vowed to take “necessary measures” to protect its sovereignty.
China’s foreign ministry said USS Hopper missile destroyer came within 12 nautical miles of Huangyan Island, which is also known as Scarborough Shoal and subject to a rival claim by the Philippines.
It was the latest U.S. naval operation challenging extensive Chinese claims in the South China Sea and came even as U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration seeks Chinese cooperation in dealing with North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs.
Two U.S. officials confirmed that the USS Hopper had sailed within 12 nautical miles of Scarborough Shoal.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the patrol was in line with international law and was an “innocent passage,” in which a warship effectively recognizes a territorial sea by crossing it quickly, without stopping.
Twelve nautical miles is an internationally recognized territorial limit.
The U.S. military says it carries out “freedom of navigation” operations throughout the world, including in areas claimed by allies, and that they are separate from political considerations.
The Pentagon did not directly comment on the latest patrol but said such operations are routine.
“All operations are conducted in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows,” Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Logan said.
The U.S. military put countering China and Russia at the center of a new national defense strategy unveiled on Friday. China criticized the strategy, saying Beijing sought “global partnership, not global dominance.”