Beijing [China], May 20 (ANI): A United States warship sailed through the Paracel Islands in the disputed South China Sea on Thursday to demonstrate that these "waters are beyond what China can lawfully claim as its territorial sea".
The US Navy's Seventh Fleet said the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur had conducted freedom of navigation operations in the vicinity of the Paracels, which are claimed by Beijing, Taiwan and Vietnam, Al Jazeera reported.
"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, and freedom of economic opportunity for the South China Sea littoral nations," it said in a statement.
"By conducting this operation, the United States demonstrated that these waters are beyond what China can lawfully claim as its territorial sea, and that China's claimed straight baselines around the Paracel Islands are inconsistent with international law," it said.
Paracel Island is also known as Xisha in China and Hoang Sa in Vietnam.
The island chain lies about 400 kilometres (250 miles) east of Vietnam and 350 kilometres (220 miles) south of China.
US Navy's Seventh Fleet said that the US forces routinely operate in close coordination with like-minded allies and partners "who share our commitment to upholding a free and open international order that promotes security and prosperity".
China reacted sharply, saying the US had violated Chinese maritime sovereignty and it had expelled the vessel.
"It has also seriously damaged peace and stability in the South China Sea," a Southern Theatre Command spokesman said. "The US behaviour violates international law and basic norms of international relations, increases regional security risks, and is prone to misunderstandings, misjudgments and accidents at sea. It is unprofessional and irresponsible."
However, the US said the destroyer had not been "expelled".
"The PLA's statement is the latest in a long string of [Chinese] actions to misrepresent lawful US maritime operations and asserts its excessive and illegitimate maritime claims at the expense [of] Southeast Asian neighbours in the South China Sea," it said.
"[China's] behaviour stands in contrast to the United States' adherence to international law and our vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific region," it added
The destroyer transited the Taiwan Strait on Tuesday "to demonstrate America's commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific". (ANI)