Navy sails warship near Paracel Islands in challenge to Beijing's South China Sea claim

Navy sails warship near Paracel Islands in challenge to Beijing's South China Sea claim
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The U.S. Navy on Friday sailed a warship through disputed waters in the South China Sea, the latest move in an operation meant to challenge Chinese claims to the area.

The U.S. military sailed the guided-missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer near the Paracel Islands, causing Beijing to accuse Washington of “navigational hegemony,” CNN reported.

Reuters was the first to report the maneuver, which “challenged the restrictions on innocent passage imposed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam, and also contested China's claim to straight baselines enclosing the Paracel Islands,” the Navy's 7th fleet spokesman Cmdr. Reann Mommsen said in a statement.

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“China, Taiwan, and Vietnam each claim sovereignty over the Paracel Islands. All three claimants require either permission or advance notification before a foreign military vessel engages in 'innocent passage' through territorial seas,” Mommsen added. “The unilateral imposition of any authorization or notification requirement for innocent passage is not permitted by international law, so the United States challenged these requirements.”

The Chinese Defense Ministry, in response, released a statement that said the U.S. warship “trespassed into waters off China's Xisha Islands without permission of the Chinese government.”

Since 1996, China has claimed the Paracel Islands and surrounding waters.

“The US side has been practicing 'navigational hegemony' in the South China Sea for a long time. Such actions have seriously undermined China's sovereign interests, and proven the US side's complete lack of sincerity in maintaining global peace as well as regional security and stability,” according to Beijing’s statement.

This is at least the sixth Navy “freedom of navigation” operation this year in the South China Sea as part of an ongoing campaign to challenge China's claims over most of the waters as its own territory.

The USS Wayne E. Meyer late last month also sailed within 12 nautical miles of the Chinese occupied and contested Fiery Cross and Mischief Reef.