Washington: A US naval destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles of a Chinese island in the disputed South China Sea, the Pentagon said today, a move that could irk China.
The decision to go ahead with the mission is certain to anger China, which said last month it would "never allow any country" to violate its territorial waters and airspace around the islands, the Washington Post reported.
According to Defence Department officials, the warship USS Lassen conducted a patrol within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef, which is one of the land masses to which China lays claim within the Spratly chain of islands in the South China Sea.
"United States would operate, fly or sail anywhere that international law allows. And that certainly includes the ability of our navy to operate in international waters," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said.
Earnest said this is a critically important principle, particularly in the South China Sea, because there are billions of dollars of commerce that flow through that region of the world every year, and maybe even more than that, and ensuring the free flow of this commerce and freedom of navigation of those vessels is protected is critically important to the global economy.
"We have been clear that we take no position on competing territorial sovereignty claims to land features in the South China Sea," Defence Department spokesman Capt Jeff Davis said.
China's Foreign Ministry said it is trying to verify media reports about the US operation.
"If true, we advise the US to think carefully before acting, not to take reckless action and not to make trouble out of nothing," the statement said.