The USS Lassen has navigated an area of the South China Sea controversially claimed by Beijing. What has traditionally been denoted as international waters has become the site of Chinese land reclamation projects.
The United States Navy has sailed a warship near man-made islands built by China in the South China Sea, the Department of Defense said Monday. The move saw the USS Lassen sail near the disputed Spratly Islands, in a clear challenge to what Washington sees as Beijing's "excessive claim" of sovereignty in what many nations consider international waters.
Without confirming the destroyer's preparations, State Department spokesman John Kirby said Monday that the US did not need any other nation's permission to sail in international waters anywhere on earth.
"The whole point of freedom of navigation in international waters is that it's international waters. You don't need to consult with anybody. That's the idea," Kirby said.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter has also previously asserted the right to sail in the area, saying, "Make no mistake, the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, as we do around the world, and the South China Sea is not and will not be an exception."
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Beijing was trying to verify if the U.S. ship had entered the 12-mile zone. "If true, we advise the U.S. to think again and before acting, not act blindly or make trouble out of nothing," the Foreign Ministry quoted Wang as saying.
A group of some 750 inlets, reefs, atolls and islands, the Spratlys straddle several important shipping lanes
Beijing's ambitions irk neighbors
China claims ownership over nearly the entirety of the sea, even in proximity to other nations such as Vietnam and the Philippines. China's controversial land reclamation projects, such as within the Spratlys, or Nansha in Chinese, have created a great deal of tension between Beijing and states that also have shores on the strategically important waterway.
The South China Sea has also remained a point of contention between the US and China even as President Barack Obama and China's Xi Jinping have been working towards closer ties in areas such as combating climate change.
Without mentioning China by name, Obama and his Indonesian counterpart Joko Widodo called for all parties to refrain from actions the could increase the tension over sovereignty issues in the South China Sea.
es/av/gsw (AP, AFP, Reuters)