The US Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Milius (DDG 69) has carried out a freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) in the South China Sea.

The US Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) confirmed that the routine operation was conducted near the disputed Paracel or Xisha Islands.

USS Milius is currently forward-deployed in the US Seventh Fleet’s area of operations to support the country’s commitment to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific region.

Once the operation was complete, the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer “exited the excessive claim,” then continued its mission in the South China Sea.

INDOPACOM stated that the FONOP was performed in adherence to the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea, as specified under international law.

The statement added: “Unlawful and sweeping maritime claims in the South China Sea pose a serious threat to the freedom of the seas, including freedoms of navigation and overflight, free trade and unimpeded commerce, and freedom of economic opportunity for South China Sea littoral nations.”

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On the day that USS Milius’ FONOP took place, the Chinese Ministry of National Defense (MND) released a statement, claiming that the US warship made an “illegal entry” into the Xisha Islands waters and had “violated” the sovereignty and security of China.

China MND spokesperson senior colonel Tan Kefei said: “The US guided-missile destroyer USS Milius illegally entered the territorial waters off China’s Xisha Islands once again without the Chinese government’s permission on 24 March, undermining peace and stability in the South China Sea.

“The troops of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Southern Theatre Command conducted tracking and monitoring in accordance with the law and warned it off.

“We sternly demand the US side to immediately stop such provocative behaviours, otherwise it would take the serious consequences of every eventuality it caused.”

Claiming the Chinese statement to be false, Seventh Fleet spokeswoman commander Haley Sims said: “The United States will continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows.”