April 28 (UPI) -- Chinese authorities say they sortied ships and aircraft to "track, monitor, verify, identify and expel" the guided-missile destroyer USS Barry from the Paracel Island chain in the South China Sea on Tuesday.
The People's Liberation Army's Southern Theatre Command accused the USS Barry of intruding into "waters around the Paracel Islands without permission," the South China Morning Post reported.
Navy officials told USNI News, however, that the Barry had conducted a "freedom of navigation operation" in the island chain off Vietnam.
The vessel had transited the Taiwan Strait twice earlier this month, provoking a similar reaction from China. The Chinese Liaoning Carrier Strike Group also transited the Taiwan Strait April 22, a day after Barry transited the same area.
PLA Southern Theatre Command spokesman Li Huamin said the operation was "incompatible with the current atmosphere as the international community is fighting pandemic."
The United States and China have each accused the other of using the COVID-19 pandemic as a distraction to exercise more military control in the South China Sea.
The Barry has been active in the South China Sea operating with the guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill and the amphibious assault ship USS America off the coast of Malaysia.