The USS John McCain sailed past the Mischief Reef and the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea despite repeated warnings from a nearby Chinese frigate.
The destroyer passed within 12 nautical miles of both land features, according to Reuters, in a “freedom of navigation operation” or FONOP, whereby the US shows China it doesn’t respect its maritime claims in the South China Sea.
The US carries out freedom of navigation operations all over the world, but only China during its massive land grab of artificial islands in territory claimed by six other nations, vocally protests.
The Chinese frigate “called and said ‘Please turn around, you are in our waters,’” a US defense official told the Guardian.
“We told them we are a US [ship] conducting routine operations in international waters,” the official continued.
The US and China have worked together recently to crack down on North Korea, which continues to test nuclear missiles and maintains a hostile stance towards the US, South Korea and Japan.
China’s neighbors in the Pacific have feared that that the US’s focus on North Korea may distract them from protecting freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, but a recent uptick in FONOPs from the US may quell that fear.