The US military confirmed that the guided-missile destroyers — Preble and Chung Hoon — sailed near China’s man-made islands on Monday.
The warships sailed within 12 nautical miles of Gaven and Johnson Reefs in the Spratly Islands, according to a US military spokesman, Commander Clay Doss.
He described the sail as an “innocent passage,” which was intended “to challenge excessive maritime claims and preserve access to the waterways as governed by international law.”
‘US ships violated China’s sovereignty’
Beijing — which claims almost all of the South China Sea — reacted to the move with anger on Monday, saying the ships had entered the area without the Chinese government’s permission and were thus warned to leave.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang also renewed the call for Washington to stop such provocative moves.
“The relevant moves by the US ships infringed upon Chinese sovereignty, and damaged the peace, security and good order of the relevant seas. China is strongly dissatisfied with this and resolutely opposed to it,” he told a daily news briefing.
The resource-rich sea has long been a source of tension between Beijing and Washington, which regularly dispatches its warships and warplanes to the waters as part of what it describes as “freedom of navigation” patrols.
The US has been taking sides with several of China’s neighboring countries, which have competing sovereignty claims to the strategic waters.
Beijing has constantly warned the US against its military activities in the sea, saying that potential close military encounters by air and naval forces of the two countries in the region could easily trigger miscalculation or even accidents at sea or in air.
China condemns US ‘freedom of navigation’ patrolsChina condemns the recent sailing of a US warship near territory that it claims in the South China Sea.
China has also urged the US on numerous occasions to stop meddling in Beijing’s territorial disputes with its neighbors.
Over the past few years, Beijing has constructed several artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea, a move that Washington has denounced as a land reclamation project. Washington also accuses Beijing of militarization of the South China Sea by building military installations on that islands and reefs.
China, however, says it is entitled to take defensive measures for its sovereign territory in the South China Sea and that such an action is normal. It rejects US claims that Beijing seeks to limit freedom of navigation in international maritime routes.