Navy ship passes near disputed islands
Beijing condemns transit operation in South China Sea
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.