A U.S. Navy warship sailed through South China Sea waters claimed by China Saturday in a "freedom of navigation" exercise, which China denounced as "grave misconduct."
A spokesman at the Pentagon, Jeff Davis, said the passage by the guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur was intended to enforce the international right to sail through such crucial navigation lanes.
The warship passed within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island in the Paracel group, which is claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam as well as by China.
In Beijing, a Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman said the U.S. destroyed peace and stability in the South China Sea with its maritime exercise, the second by an American warship in the area since October.
The spokesman, Yang Yujun, expressed China's "resolute opposition" to the sail-by, and said Chinese armed forces will take "all necessary measures against any act of provocation by the United States."
Pentagon spokesman Davis said the U.S. destroyer was conducting a routine "freedom-of-navigation operation in the South China Sea.”
The mission was intended "to challenge attempts by the three claimants — China, Taiwan and Vietnam — to restrict navigation rights and freedoms,” Davis said.
No prior notice of the U.S. vessel's transit was given to China or any other regional authorities, "which is consistent with our normal process and international law," the Pentagon spokesman said.
Three months ago, the Navy sent another guided-missile destroyer on a similar mission close to one of the artificial islands China has built on a partly submerged reef in the South China Sea. That exercise also was denounced by China.
The U.S. Congress called for further freedom-of-navigation voyages after the October cruise. Earlier this month, Senator John McCain, chairman of the influential Senate Armed Services Committee, contended President Barack Obama had opposed further sail-bys in the South China Sea.