Pentagon pledges to continue ops in South China Sea, ignoring Beijing’s warning

Woody Island

The US Navy's Higgins and Antietam warships, a destroyer and cruiser respectively, entered China's territorial waters without permission and were met by the Chinese Navy, which "conducted verification and identification of US ships according to law and warned them to leave", the ministry said.

U.S. military vessels carried out maneuvering operations near Tree, Lincoln, Triton and Woody islands in the Paracels, one of the officials said.

The ministry said the course plotted by the vessels had "seriously infringed upon Chinese sovereignty" and "contravened Chinese and relevant worldwide law", as they had entered territorial waters without permission.

China earlier this month landed bomber aircraft capable of carrying nuclear weapons on its main base at Woody Island in the Paracels.

The operation was the latest attempt to counter what Washington sees as Beijing's efforts to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters.

China has built seven artificial islands in the Spratlys group in the South China Sea and turned them into military outposts with airfields, radars, and missile defences.

Critics of the operations, known as a "freedom of navigation", have said that they have little impact on Chinese behavior and are largely symbolic.

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Satellite photographs taken on May 12 showed China appeared to have deployed truck-mounted surface-to-air missiles or anti-ship cruise missiles at Woody Island.

FONOPS are regularly conducted in disputed seas throughout the world.

The U.S. ships were performing so-called "freedom of navigation operations" meant to exercise the U.S. right to navigate the waters under global law, as China's claims over the South China Sea aren't internationally recognized.

"All operations are conducted in accordance with worldwide law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever global law allows".

China's foreign minister said China had a right to take whatever measures it deemed fit on its island holdings, and the defence ministry criticized the US move as "unconstructive", saying it would do nothing to change China's resolve to "play a role in maintaining peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region".

State-run news agency Xinhua said the two vessels were "expelled" from the waters.

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