The US navy says one of its destroyers has sailed near the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, the second such provocative move in the strategic waterway in a week.
“On July 16, USS Benfold (DDG 65) asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the South China Sea near the Spratly Islands, consistent with international law,” the US navy said in a statement on Saturday.
The United States regularly carries out what it claims to be freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea, challenging restrictions on naval passage imposed by China and other claimants.
Beijing has repeatedly asserted that it does not impede freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, and says the United States is deliberately provoking tensions there.
China’s military said on Wednesday that it had “driven away” the same ship, the USS Benfold, when it sailed near the disputed Paracel Islands.
The Southern Theater Command of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) said the guided-missile destroyer had illegally entered Chinese territorial waters, adding that the move seriously violated China’s sovereignty and security.
It also stressed that Chinese naval and air forces had tracked the ship and warned it to leave the vicinity of the disputed islands.