The US Navy sailed two warships twice in a similar effort to challenge Chinese claims to the islands of Paracel and Spratly last month and conducted a similar operation near Paracels in March.
“On May 28 (local time), USS Mustin (DDG 89) asserted the right of navigation and freedom in the Paracel Islands, consistent with international law,” Lieutenant Anthony Junco, spokesman for the US Navy’s 7th Fleet, said in a statement.
“By carrying out this operation, the United States demonstrated that these waters are outside what China can legally claim as its territorial sea,” the statement added.
Mustin traveled 12 nautical miles from Woody Island and the Pyramid Stones on the islands, said a US Navy official. China maintains an airfield on Woody Island and has landed strategic bombers there in the past.
The Pentagon recently revealed that Chinese ships on April 14 carried out “unsafe and unprofessional maneuvers” near Mustin “who were conducting normal operations in international waters” at the time of the incident, according to Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Dave Eastburn.
The Paracel Islands are claimed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan, and the US has long said Beijing has militarized islands in the South China Sea through the deployment of military hardware and the construction of military facilities.
The US military has recently accused China of trying to exploit a coronavirus pandemic to gain military and economic benefits in the region.