MOSCOW (Sputnik) — Earlier in the day, the Chinese Foreign Ministry voiced a protest against the US guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem's entering the waters off the disputed Paracel Islands, known in China as the Xisha Islands. According to Foreign Ministry's spokesman Lu Kang, the US actions violated the Chinese law as well as the international law and constituted a serious political and military provocation.
Moreover, China "dispatched military vessels and fighter planes in response to warn off the US vessel."
"US forces operate in the Asia-Pacific region on a daily basis, including in the South China Sea. All operations are conducted in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows," the department's representative said.
"We are continuing regular FONOPs, as we have routinely done in the past and will continue to do in the future. Summaries of these operations are always reported publicly in the annual Department of Defense Freedom of Navigation Report," the representative added.
The South China Sea area, where the Paracel Islands are located, is a disputed region claimed by Brunei, China, Malaysia, Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam, as it is believed that it has vast energy resources. Chinese authorities claim 90 percent of the area and have repeatedly said that all the country's activities in the region are China's sovereign right.
In May, the USS Dewey, a United States Navy guided-missile destroyer also conducted a freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea. The ship sailed around Mischief Reef, in the Spratly Island chain. The Chinese Defense Ministry accused Washington of militarization of the South China Sea region, following the sailing of the USS Dewey near the Mischief Reef.
Also in May, Chinese fighter jets reportedly came within 100 feet of US anti-submarine and maritime surveillance P-3 Orion aircraft over the South China Sea.