The U.S. Navy sent a warship steaming near disputed islands in the South China Sea Thursday, a day after Beijing reportedly tested so-called “carrier killer” missiles in the same area.
The guided-missile destroyer Mustin “asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the vicinity of the Paracel Islands, consistent with international law,” U.S. 7th Fleet spokeswoman Cmdr. Reann Mommsen said in a statement. “This freedom of navigation operation (‘FONOP’) upheld the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging the unlawful restrictions on innocent passage imposed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam and also by challenging China’s claim to straight baselines enclosing the Paracel Islands.”
The Paracels are a collection of 130 islands and reefs, surrounded by rich fishing grounds and potential natural resource reserves, that are claimed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam.
Such FONOPs are regularly conducted by the Navy to challenge territorial claims there and elsewhere in the South China Sea, which includes some of the world’s busiest trade routes.
China has in recent years expanded its military presence on the islands.
A Wednesday test firing of China’s DF-26B and DF-21D “carrier killer” ballistic missiles took place near the Paracels, the South China Morning Post reported.
The report in the Hong Kong-based newspaper cited unidentified sources close to the Chinese military.
The test firing comes after the Trump administration announced this year that it would reject nearly all of Beijing’s maritime claims in the South China Sea.
In a statement Thursday, the Pentagon condemned China’s recent military exercises around the Paracels, “including the firing of ballistic missiles.”
“Conducting military exercises over disputed territory in the South China Sea is counterproductive to easing tensions and maintaining stability,” the Pentagon said. “The (People’s Republic of China’s) actions, including missile tests, further destabilize the situation in the South China Sea.”