The U.S. Navy dismissed as “false” China’s claims that it “drove away” a U.S. warship that passed through the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea on Monday.
The USS Benfold destroyer sailed near the small archipelago, located south of China and east of Vietnam, in a move known as a freedom of navigation operation, according to the Navy.
The operation challenged “the unlawful restrictions on innocent passage imposed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam,” the Navy said in a statement.
All three countries claim the islands and require either permission or advance notification before a military vessel passes through, which the U.S. did not give Monday.
The Navy added it would continue to carry out these operations “as long as some countries continue to assert maritime claims that are inconsistent with international law.”
“Unlawful and sweeping maritime claims in the South China Sea pose a serious threat to the freedom of the seas, including the freedoms of navigation and overflight, free trade and unimpeded commerce,” the Navy said. “No member of the international community should be intimidated or coerced into giving up their rights and freedoms.”
Chinese authorities on Monday called the move “provocative” and urged the U.S. to stop, according to Reuters.
The freedom of navigation operation comes on the fifth anniversary of an international court ruling in The Hague that held China had no historic title over the South China Sea. Beijing has ignored the ruling.
Other islands and atolls in the South China Sea are contested by Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines. China considers much of the resource-rich sea its territory — overlapping with the territorial claims of other nations — and has created hundreds of hectares of artificial islands to bolster its territorial claims.
The U.S. frequently conducts freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea to dispute China's claims and to promote free passage through international waters that carry half the world's merchant fleet tonnage, worth trillions of dollars each year.