The U.S. Department of Defense has dispatched a Navy warship near a disputed island located in the South China Sea.
Officials told Fox News that the guided-missile destroyer, the USS Stethem, sailed within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island, part of the Paracel Islands, which is claimed by several nations. The destroyer was trailed by a Chinese warship when it sailed by the island on Sunday morning, the officials said.
The U.S. Navy conducted a “freedom of navigation exercise,” or FONOPS, with the maneuver, Fox reported.
But the Pentagon declined to officially comment on the move. “We conduct routine and regular [freedom of navigation operations], as we have done in the past and will continue to do in the future,” a spokesman said.
“Beijing has undertaken substantial upgrades of its military infrastructure in the Paracels,” says the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.
U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Matt Knight spoke about the sail-by to USNI.
“U.S. forces operate in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region on a daily basis, including in the South China Sea. All operations are conducted in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows. That is true in the South China Sea as in other places around the globe,” he said, without elaborating.
He added: “Summaries of these operations are released publicly in the annual DoD Freedom of Navigation Report, and not sooner.”
According to USNI, the Stethem likely “conducted an innocent passage past Triton.”
Last October, the USS Decatur carried out a freedom of navigation operation near the area. And in early 2016, the USS Curtis Wilbur made a similar maneuver near Triton Island.