Navy ship passes near dis­puted is­lands

Bei­jing con­demns tran­sit op­er­a­tion in South China Sea

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Matthew Pen­ning­ton

WASH­ING­TON — A U.S. Navy de­stroyer on Fri­day passed through wa­ters claimed by China near dis­puted is­lands in the South China Sea, the De­fense De­part­ment said, draw­ing Chi­nese con­dem­na­tion.

A de­part­ment spokes- man, Navy Cmdr. Gary Ross, said the USS De­catur con­ducted the tran­sit op­er­a­tion near the Para­cel Is­lands. He said it was done “in a rou­tine, law­ful man­ner with­out ship es­corts and with­out in­ci­dent.”

A Chi­nese de­fense min­istry state­ment called it “a gravely il­le­gal act” and “in­ten­tion­ally provoca­tive.”

The Chi­nese navy sent a guided mis­sile de­stroyer and an es­cort ves­sel that “spot­ted and ver­i­fied the Amer­i­can ships and warned them to leave,” the state- ment said.

Ross said there was just one U.S. ship in­volved.

The Paracels, a group of is­lands and reefs, are oc­cu­pied by China but are also claimed by Viet­nam and Tai­wan.

Ross said the ship passed within an “ex­ces­sive” claim of ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters by China be­tween two land fea­tures, although it did not go within 12 nau­ti­cal miles of them.

He did not spec­ify where in the Paracels the ship sailed.

The U.S. Navy has con­ducted four free­dom-of­nav­i­ga­tion op­er­a­tions in the past year in the South China Sea, where China has re­claimed land on a mas­sive scale to as­sert its claim to dis­puted fea­tures — mostly in the Spratly is­lands that lie far­ther south.

The Chi­nese state­ment ac­cused the U.S. of be­ing a “trou­ble­maker” in the South China at a time when “un­der the joint ef­forts of coun­tries in this re­gion” the sit­u­a­tion is de­vel­op­ing pos­i­tively. The USS De­catur, right, moves be­hind an­other Navy ship this month in the South China Sea. The de­stroyer con­ducted a tran­sit op­er­a­tion Fri­day near the Para­cel Is­lands.

PETTY OF­FI­CER 2ND CLASS WILL GAS/NAVY

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