Beijing: Three US officials confirmed that a US Navy destroyer sailed near islands claimed by China in the South China Sea. The warship allegedly carried out a “freedom of navigation” operation near the islands, according to an exclusive report by Reuters.
The officials, who asked to remain anonymous, claimed that the USS Chafee, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, “challenged excessive maritime claims” near the Paracel Islands by sailing close to, but not within, the 12-nautical-mile limit of the islands.
The operation was part of a longstanding effort to challenge Beijing’s “excessive maritime claims,” the officials said, adding that the US does not recognize China’s claim of sovereignty in that location and regards the area as international waters.
The Paracel Islands have been controlled by China since 1974 but they are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan. Tensions flared in 2014 when China installed exploratory oil rigs in the vicinity.
Dotted with small islands, reefs and shoals, the South China Sea is home to a string of messy territorial disputes that pit multiple countries against each other. Beijing has also warned US warships and military aircraft to stay away from these islands.