A US Navy destroyer conducts a freedom of navigation exercise in the South China Sea

Lt. Nicholas Lingo, spokesman for the US 7th Fleet, headquartered in Japan, said this is the second so-called freedom of navigation operation in the Paracel Islands, known as the Xisha Islands in China, this year and the third directed against Beijing. . “excessive maritime claims” in regional waters over the same period.

The USS Benfold missile destroyer operation Wednesday challenged not only China, but also Vietnam and the self-governing island of Taiwan, which also lay claim to the islands as all three governments require warships to request permission or advance notice of “innocent passage.” through the area, Lingo said.

The Paracel Islands are a collection of 130 small coral islands and reefs in the northwestern part of the South China Sea. They have no indigenous population to speak of, only Chinese military garrisons of 1,400, according to the CIA World Factbook.

The islands have been in Chinese hands for almost 50 years, during which time they have been inhabited by military installations of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

The PLA Southern Command said it had warned the US destroyer to leave its “territorial waters”.

“The actions of the US military have seriously violated the sovereignty and security of China, seriously undermined the peace and stability in the South China Sea, and seriously violated international law and the norms of international relations,” the PLA Air Force colonel said. This is stated in the statement of the official representative of the command of the Southern Theater of Operations Tian Junli.

But Lingo, a spokesman for the US 7th Fleet, said the US destroyer’s departure “supported the rights, freedoms and fair use of the sea recognized by international law.”

“Illegal and widespread maritime claims in the South China Sea pose a serious threat to freedom of navigation, including freedom of navigation and overflight, free trade and unfettered trade, and freedom of economic opportunity for the coastal states of the South China Sea,” the statement said. says in the statement.

“In accordance with international law … the ships of all states, including their warships, enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea. The unilateral imposition of any clearance or advance notice requirement for innocent passage is illegal,” the US Navy said in a statement. said.

Claiming freedom of navigation rights involves sailing within a 12-mile territorial limit from the coastline of a country recognized by international law.

The US Navy said in a statement Wednesday’s operation also cast doubt on “straight baselines” — attempts to define all waters within a chain of islands as a single territorial claim.

“International law does not allow continental states such as the PRC to establish baselines around entire scattered island groups. With these baselines, the PRC has attempted to claim more inland waters, territorial waters, exclusive economic zone, and continental shelf than it is entitled to. in accordance with international law,” the 7th Fleet said in a statement, citing the People’s Republic of China.

The PLA said Wednesday that the US Navy is escalating tensions in the region.

“The facts once again show that the United States is a clear ‘risk maker in the South China Sea’ and a ‘violator of regional peace and stability’,” the PLA said in a statement.