29 May, 2018
The US officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the Higgins guided-missile destroyer and the Antietam, a guided-missile cruiser, came within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Islands, among a string of islets, reefs and shoals over which China has territorial disputes with its neighbours.
The two ships passed within 12 miles of four islands - Tree, Lincoln, Triton and Woody - according to a U.S. defence official.
Chinese defence chiefs have said U.S. warships entered the waters and did not leave when warned by Beijing's warships and aircraft.
The Chinese Defense Ministry accused the United States of "provocation" and infringing upon China's sovereignty by conducting operations near the disputed Paracel Islands.
'China will continue to take all necessary measures to defend the country's sovereignty and security, ' it added, without elaborating.
In a statement, the U.S. Pacific Fleet said such operations "challenge excessive maritime claims and demonstrate our commitment to uphold the rights, freedoms, and uses of the sea and airspace guaranteed to all nations under worldwide law".
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It added that its presence in the South China Sea - which is disputed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam - was legitimate, and accused the USA of holding Cold War-style suspicions.
China's military, he said, would be "firm and unwavering in its determination to strengthen sea and air operational preparedness construction" on the islands.
China's claims in the South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion (3.75 trillion pounds) in shipborne trade passes each year, are contested by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
The latest clash comes amid an ongoing fued between the two powers over the the disputed South China Sea.
FONOPS are regularly conducted in disputed seas throughout the world.
American warships will continue to be deployed in the region "on an everyday basis", Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Logan told the Russian media on Sunday.
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