Two U.S. Navy guided missile destroyers, USS Preble (DDG-88) and USS Chung-Hoon (DDG-93), sailed near disputed islands claimed by China in the South China Sea on Monday, according to reports.
During the so called freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs), the destroyers traveled within 12 nautical miles of the Gaven and Johnson Reefs in the Spratly Islands chain, which Beijing calls as Nansha Islands. The China-occupied reefs are also claimed by the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
The passage was “to challenge excessive maritime claims and preserve access to the waterways as governed by international law”, Cmdr. Clay Doss, spokesperson of U.S. 7th Fleet.
“All operations are designed in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows,” Doss added.
The U.S. Navy regularly conducts FONOPs to challenge Beijing’s claims in the sea. At least three FONOPSs were conducted in the South China Sea this year, compared with five publicly reported passages in all of 2018.
China protested the operation saying it violates its sovereignty.
“On May 6, two U.S. warships without the permission of the Chinese government have entered the adjacent waters of the Johnson reef in China’s Nansha island in the South China Sea, (SCS),” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a media briefing in Beijing on Monday.