The USS John S. McCain cruised near the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea in a routine freedom-of-navigation mission to "assert navigational rights and freedoms," the first such mission under President Joe Biden's new administration, Al-Jazeera reported on Saturday.
The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer had conducted a "routine Taiwan Strait transit" on Feb. 4 in accordance with international law, according to U.S. Navy officials. The Taiwan Defense Ministry described the routine operation as a "normal" activity.
Freedom of navigation on this part of the ocean is consistent with international law, but the tiny islands in the area are claimed by many nations and are controlled by China since 1974.
"Under international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention, the ships of all States -- including their warships -- have the right to innocent passage through the territorial sea," U.S. Navy 7th Fleet officials said in a statement quoted by UPI News.
In a statement released Friday, the Eastern Theater Command of China's People's Liberation Army said its military forces had followed and tracked the American destroyer.
"The U.S. move is a repeat of its old trick of 'mixed manipulation' of the situation across the Taiwan Strait, intentionally creating tensions and disrupting regional stability and peace. We are resolutely opposed to this," the statement said, as per Reuters.
The Chinese military said they were dismayed with the freedom of navigation operation and said it had deployed naval and air assets to drive away the USS John S. McCain, Reuters said.
According to Wang Wenbin, Chinese Foreign Affairs spokesperson, China will continue to remain on heightened alert and is ready to respond to "threats and provocations any time and will resolutely protect its national sovereignty and territorial integrity."
China took full jurisdiction of the Paracel Islands in 1974 following a short battle with the South Vietnamese military. Vietnam and Taiwan have continued to claim the islands.
Four years of former U.S. President Donald Trump's presidency saw growing frictions between Beijing and Washington over a string of issues that include disputes in the South China Sea region and Taiwan.
China, which considers Taiwan a breakaway state, asserts that foreign ships must first seek permission from the government before they can traverse the waterway.
Biden's administration said it has been keen to demonstrate its support for Taiwan, calling its commitment to the island state as "rock solid."