Map of the South China Sea: iStock
Map of the South China Sea: iStock

In the latest implicit challenge to China’s sweeping territorial claims in the South China Sea, a US warship has sailed through waters off the contested Spratly Islands, the Pentagon said Sunday.

“Guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur conducted a freedom of navigation operation,” an official told AFP. “Decatur sailed within 12 nautical miles of Gaven and Johnson reefs in the Spratly Islands.”

The official said all US military operations in the area “are designed in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows.”

The 12-mile distance is widely accepted as constituting the territorial waters of a landmass. Beijing claims the entire Spratly chain.

There was no immediate reaction from China, but a similar American operation in July that involved the disputed Paracel islands infuriated Beijing, which deployed military vessels and fighter jets.

The Paracels, situated north of the Spratly Islands, are claimed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam.

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