A Chinese military spokesperson said on Friday that the US destroyer John McCain sailed near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, a disputed archipelago that China claims. The spokesperson said the US did not have permission from Beijing to sail the warship into the sensitive waters.
“We demand the US immediately stop such provocative actions, (and) strictly control and restrict military operations in the sea and air,” the spokesperson said.
The South China Sea has turned into a major flashpoint between the US and China. Beijing and its Southeast Asian neighbors all have overlapping claims to the waters. In July, the US formally rejected most of China’s claims to the South China Sea and has since sanctioned Chinese companies involved in construction projects in the region.
Throughout the summer, the US sent aircraft carriers into the contested waters and held massive naval drills. There has also been an uptick in US military flights in the region, and observers recorded instances of the US disguising spy planes as civilian aircraft in the region.
Since 2015, the US has run what it calls Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOP) in the South China Sea, increasing tensions in the region. The FONOPs usually involve sailing a warship near the contested archipelagos and always draw sharp condemnation from Beijing.