Navy officials say China's claims that it used naval and air forces to expel a U.S. destroyer from its territory this week are false.
A senior colonel with the Chinese People's Liberation Army said Tuesday that it "expelled" the destroyer John S. McCain out of waters near the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. The claims were published in the Global Times, a Chinese state-run newspaper.
But Navy officials say the statement is "the latest in a long string" of Chinese efforts to misrepresent lawful U.S. maritime operations in the region.
"The [People's Republic of China's] statement about this mission is false," said Lt. Joe Keiley, a spokesman for U.S. 7th Fleet. "USS John S. McCain was not 'expelled' from any nation's territory."
The McCain conducted a freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea on Tuesday. The operation upheld the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging restrictions on innocent passage imposed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan, officials said in a Tuesday news release about the mission.
Those three countries -- along with Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei -- each claim ownership of the group of islands. Navy officials, in the Tuesday news release, said unlawful and sweeping maritime claims pose serious threats to the freedom of the seas.
"The international community has an enduring role in preserving the freedom of the seas, which is critical to global security, stability and prosperity," the release states.
China called the McCain's movements "a serious violation" of its sovereignty and security, adding that the operation "gravely disrupted peace and stability in the South China Sea." Troops there are "on high alert at all times," according to the Global Times, "and will firmly carry out their duties and missions to safeguard national sovereignty and security, as well as peace and stability in the region."
Keiley said the U.S. military will continue flying, sailing and operating wherever international law allows, as the McCain did Tuesday.
"The PRC's behavior stands in contrast to the United States' adherence to international law and our vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific region," he added. "All nations, large and small, should be secure in their sovereignty, free from coercion, and able to pursue economic growth consistent with accepted international rules and norms."