A U.S. guided-missile destroyer conducted a freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea on Wednesday, it was announced.

The USS Russell sailed near the Spratly Islands to assert “navigational rights and freedoms” that were “consistent with international law,” the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet said in a release.

“This freedom of navigation operation (“FONOP”) upheld the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging unlawful restrictions on innocent passage imposed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan,” the release said.

China, Vietnam, and Taiwan each claim sovereignty over some or all of the Spratly Islands, and require either permission or advance notification before a foreign military vessel engages in “innocent passage” through the sea. Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines also claim sovereignty over some of the islands.

In saying the U.S. challenged excessive worldwide maritime claims regardless of the claimant’s identity, the Navy added the international 1982 Law of the Sea Convention allowed ships “of all States” to enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea.

“The unilateral imposition of any authorization or advance-notification requirement for innocent passage is not permitted by international law,” the release said. “By engaging in innocent passage without giving prior notification to or asking permission from any of the claimants, the United States challenged these unlawful restrictions imposed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam. 

“The United States demonstrated that innocent passage may not be subject to such restrictions.”

Earlier this month, the USS John S. McCain performed a FONOP near the Paracel Islands after the destroyer moved through the Taiwan Strait, per the U.S. Naval Institute News. Taiwan, China, and Vietnam all have staked claims to the islands.

The USNI said the Navy last year performed multiple FONOPs in the South China Sea. It appeared to be continuing the practice under the Biden administration.

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