July 24, 2024

(Bloomberg) — A US Navy destroyer passed through waters claimed by Beijing in the South China Sea in a show of force that comes as the nation’s military holds drills around Taiwan.

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The USS Milius guided missile destroyer conducted “freedom of navigation” operations Monday in the South China Sea near the Spratly Islands, the US Seventh Fleet said in a statement. The ship sailed within 12 nautical miles (22 kilometers) of Mischief Reef, where China has its largest outpost on artificial islands in the South China Sea and the closest to Philippine territory.

“These operations demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows — regardless of the location of excessive maritime claims and regardless of current events,” it said.

The move risks stoking tensions with China, which has denounced similar operations as an infringement of its sovereignty and security. This week, the US plans to start annual military exercises with the Philippines, which are set to be larger than previous years as ties warm between the long-time allies.

China’s military tracked and monitored the US warship during its passage, which was done without the permission of the government in Beijing, the country’s Southern Theater Command said in a statement on the Weibo social media site.

Beijing asserts it has rights to more than 80% of the South China Sea, whose other claimants are the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Brunei. The US refuses to recognize China’s claims, and regularly conducts what it calls freedom of navigation operations to challenge them.

China, meanwhile, this week has held multiple exercises involving aircraft and ships near Taiwan, after the island’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, returned from a visit to the US, which included meetings with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and other US lawmakers.

Read: China Holds a Second Day of Military Exercises Around Taiwan

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said in a statement that on Sunday it detected 70 aircraft from China’s People’s Liberation Army and 11 warships near Taiwan as of 4 p.m., with 35 of the warplanes crossing the median line of the Taiwan Strait and entering the southwestern part of the island’s air-defense identification zone.

Beijing had pledged to respond to any meeting between Tsai and McCarthy, calling it a provocation that “damages China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” The latest drills appear to be on a smaller scale than exercises held by China after then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan last year, and didn’t include any imposition of exclusive zones in its airspace and waters.

–With assistance from Kevin Ding.

(Updates with statement from China’s military.)

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