Feb. 5 (UPI) -- The destroyer USS John S. McCain patrolled near the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, the Navy said on Friday, in a challenge to China -- just one day after transiting the Taiwan Strait.
The passage of the USS McCain is the first by a U.S. Navy ship through the disputed area in the administration of President Joe Biden.
Freedom of navigation on the waterway is consistent with international law, but the small islands of the area are claimed by several countries, and since 1974 are controlled by China.
The Navy noted in a statement Friday that China, Taiwan and Vietnam each claim sovereignty over the Paracel Islands and require advance notification, if not permission, before a military vessel passes through the waterways.
"Under international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention, the ships of all States -- including their warships -- enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea," U.S. Navy 7th Fleet officials noted in the statement.
"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," the 7th Fleet officials said.
The McCain also traversed the adjacent Taiwan Strait, which separates China from mainland Taiwan, on Thursday.
China's government, which considers Taiwan a breakaway province, insists that foreign vessels must first ask permission before traveling through the strait.
While the 7th Fleet statement stressed the ship's compliance with international law after traversing the Taiwan Strait, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin disagreed.
"China will continue to be on alert, stand ready to face all threats and provocations, and resolutely protect national sovereignty and territorial integrity," Wenbin said Thursday at a press briefing.
The South China Sea is a diplomatic flashpoint, with a number of countries, including the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei, claiming parts of it.
China has constructed naval berthing stations on the Paracel Islands, and has installed small air bases on artificial islands in the sea.