U.S. forces operating in the region navigate through international waters regularly and always abide by international law, a U.S. official said, adding that such patrols demonstrate the U.S. will “fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows.”
“That is true in the South China Sea as in other places around the globe,” the official said. “FONOPs are not about any one country, nor are they about making political statements,” the official said.
There was no immediate response from the Chinese government. Beijing says it has “indisputable sovereignty” over all South China Sea islands and their adjacent waters.
Last week, China said the recent flight of American B-52 bombers over the South China Sea was “provocative.” The Pentagon called the flight routine.
The last time the U.S. conducted a freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea was in May, when two warships—the USS Antietam and USS Higgins—navigated through the Paracel Islands.
Such maritime patrols are typically planned weeks in advance. Still, Sunday’s patrol comes amid rising tensions with China.