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U.S. Navy: China did not 'expel' USS John S. McCain from South China Sea

U.S. Navy: China did not 'expel' USS John S. McCain from South China Sea
The guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain left the South China Sea on Tuesday after Chinese claims that it was expelled from the area by China's People's Liberation Army. Photo by MCS2 Markus Castaneda/U.S. Navy 

Dec. 23 (UPI) -- Claims by China that it "expelled" the guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain from disputed South China Seawaters are untrue, the U.S. Navy said.

"On Dec. 22, USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the Spratly Islands, consistent with international law," a statement Tuesday by the Navy's 7th Fleet began.

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"This freedom of navigation 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.

"All interactions with foreign military forces were consistent with international norms and did not impact the operation."

The Chinese statement came after the ship passed near the archipelago of small islands, reefs and atolls in the South China Sea, an area claimed by China, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei. China has installed an airstrip and several buildings on the site.

"The Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) on Tuesday expelled U.S. destroyer USS John S. McCain after it trespassed into China's territorial waters off Nansha Islands in the South China Sea, said Senior Col. Tian Junli, a spokesperson for the PLA Southern Theater Command," a statement by the state-owned China Global Television Network said Tuesday.

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The PLA statement added that ships and aircraft drove the U.S. ship from the area.

The U.S. Navy statement Tuesday noted that "U.S. forces operate in the South China Sea on a daily basis, as they have for more than a century."

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