UPDATE: 9:35 a.m. EST — The Chinese foreign ministry Saturday said the U.S. violated Chinese law when the USS Curtis Wilbur sailed near an artificial island to which Beijing has claimed territorial rights, Reuters reported.
"The American warship has violated relevant Chinese laws by entering Chinese territorial waters without prior permission, and the Chinese side has taken relevant measures, including monitoring and admonishments," the ministry said in a statement.
A U.S. destroyer-class warship sailed within a 12-nautical-mile distance of an island in the South China Sea, claimed by China and two of its neighbors, Saturday, a U.S. defense official told the Wall Street Journal.
The USS Curtis Wilbur conducted a patrol of the Triton Island, a manned China outpost and part of the Paracel islands chain. Although the man-made islands are under Chinese control, they have been also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam.
Branded the “Freedom of navigation operation,” the U.S. has challenged what is seen as China’s excessive maritime claims in the region, conducting regular patrols since last year in the area that would be considered Chinese sovereign territory if the U.S. recognized the man-made islands as being Chinese territory.
Saturday’s patrol was conducted without any prior notification to any of the three claimants, legally significant for Washington to assert its right to navigation over China’s claims.
The mission, which lasted three hours, did not spot any Chinese Navy in the area, a Defense official told the Journal, but declined to give any specifics whether there was any communication or interactions with the Chinese or vessels from other nations.
Patrols in the past have invited significant protests from Chinese officials who usually send a small group of ships to investigate the arrival of any foreign ships.
“We saw nothing that was unusual in terms of the reaction,” the official told the Journal, declining to elaborate further.
In October last year, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, testifying before a Senate panel, said the missions would continue. "We will fly, sail and operate wherever international law permits and whenever our operational needs require," he reportedly said.