The officials, who asked to remain anonymous, claimed that the USS Chafee, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, "challenged excessive maritime claims" near the Paracel Islands by sailing close to, but not within, the 12-nautical-mile limit of the islands.
Freedom of navigation is codified in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the the Sea among articles that defines the rights and responsibilities of nations regarding the use of the world's oceans and marine natural resources. The convention has been in effect since 1994 and currently has more than 165 participating parties.
According to the US State Department, "US policy since 1983 that the US will exercise and assert its navigation and overflight rights and freedoms on a worldwide basis in a manner that is consistent with the balance of interests reflected in the Law of the Sea convention."
This comes after US President Donald Trump's requested China's cooperation in addressing North Korea's missile and nuclear programs during his UN speech during the General Assembly of the United Nations in September.
The disputed Paracel Islands consist of a group of islands, reefs and shoals presently controlled and occupied by the People's Republic of China but also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.
Since Trump took office in January, the US has carried out three "freedom of navigation" operations near islands claimed by China in protest of Beijing's maritime claims.
"For some time now, some countries have used the pretext of freedom of navigation to bring their planes and fleets near the South China Sea," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said in late September," NDTV reported.