WASHINGTON — Two U.S. ships sailed in waters near the contested Spratly Islands on Monday, containing an increasing campaign by the Pentagon and others to keep waters eyed by China open to all.
U.S. guided-missile destroyers USS Preble and USS Chung-Hoon traveled within 12 nautical miles of Gaven and Johnson reefs as part of the ongoing freedom-of-navigation operation in the South China Sea and nearby waterways, Pentagon officials said Monday.
According to Reuters, in Beijing foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said the Chinese navy warned the U.S. ships to leave after they entered the waters near the islets without Beijing’s permission. Pentagon officials did not comment on his statement.
The Pentagon has sent ships through the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait each month of this year, a first. Pentagon officials have repeatedly made it clear the increased effort — at times joined by other nations — is to preserve the openness of the waterways.
The Pentagon has sent more Navy ships through waters that China claims as its own — both the Taiwan Strait and around islands and outcrops that China has seized and is militarizing in the South China and East China seas — to start this year than any time in the past. The U.S also has increased air sorties in those regions.