WASHINGTON, Oct. 22 (UPI) -- A U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer sailed through the South China Sea in a "freedom of navigation" operation, White House officials said.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest confirmed the USS Decatur sailed within the vicinity of the Paracel Islands in order to challenge China's claims in the South China Sea.
"The purpose of this mission was to uphold the rights and freedoms of all states under international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention," Earnest said. "This operation demonstrated that coastal states may not unlawfully restrict the navigation rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea that the United States and all states are entitled to exercise under international law."
Earnest said the United States does not consider itself a claimant nor a supporter of other claimants to the land features in the South China Sea, but rather sought to assert disputes over land in the area should be settled through negotiation rather than coercion or military force.
"So that's what our interest is, and that is an interest that we will look for opportunities to convey," he said. "And that essentially is the message that was sent by the operation that was carried out by the USS Decatur last night."
Defense Department spokesman Cmdr. Gary Ross said the routine operation, which did not cross the 12-mile territorial limit of any land features, was carried out without incident, according to Navy Times.
"The United States conducts these routine operations on a regular basis around the world, in full compliance with international law," he said.
The Chinese Defense Ministry released a statement following the operation deeming the act a serious breach of law and an intentional provocation, CNN reported.
Earnest said the operation was not intended to be viewed as "controversial or confrontational" on part of the U.S., but rather "an illustration of our firm commitment to an important principle that serves the interests of countries around the world."
China had stationed troops in the disputed Paracel Islands and deployed airmen on Woody Island earlier in the week, raising tensions in the area.