China announced Sunday it sent warships to challenge two U.S. Navy vessels that sailed through disputed waters in the South China Sea.
The Chinese confronted the two ships — the Higgins destroyer and the Antietam cruiser — and ordered them to leave as they sailed within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Islands, an archipelago in the waters over which Beijing claims total sovereignty.
China’s Ministry of National Defense said the United States “seriously violated China’s sovereignty” and undermined peace, security and mutual trust between the two nations and their militaries.
The U.S. ships were performing so-called “freedom of navigation operations” meant to exercise the U.S. right to navigate the waters under international law, as China’s claims over the South China Sea aren’t internationally recognized.
China claims the passage within the country’s territory represents a violation under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.