Washington: A US guided missile destroyer on Saturday sailed within 12 nautical miles of an island in the disputed South China Sea claimed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam "to challenge excessive maritime claims" that restrict freedom of navigation.
The "freedom of navigation operation" was conducted near Triton Island in the South China Sea, rich in natural resources and a major shipping lane. Over half of the world's commercial shipping passes through the Indo-Pacific waterways including one-third of the world's liquefied natural gas.
"I can confirm the Department of Defence conducted a freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea on Jan 30, specifically in the vicinity of Triton Island in the Paracel Islands, to challenge excessive maritime claims," Pentagon spokesman Commander Bill Urban told PTI in response to a question.
"During the operation, the USS Curtis Wilbur, transited in innocent passage within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island," he said, adding this operation was about challenging claims that restrict the rights and freedoms of the US and others, not about territorial claims to land features.
Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis said no ships from China's military were in the vicinity of the guided-missile destroyer when it passed through the islands. Today's development comes three months after US warship USS Lassen sailed within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island Beijing is building in the Spratly Islands, triggering a major face-off.
"This operation challenged attempts by the three claimants - China, Taiwan and Vietnam - to restrict navigation rights and freedoms around the features they claim by policies that require prior permission or notification of transit within territorial seas," Urban said. The excessive claims regarding Triton Island are inconsistent with international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention, he added.