USS Hopper sails near disputed South China Sea island claimed by China

US destroyer USS Hopper sailed within 12 miles of the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea under what the US Navy refers to as a freedom of navigation operation.

Hopper sailed near the China-claimed island on January 17 as part of its Western Pacific deployment.

China’s foreign ministry protested the move saying the destroyer sailed near Huangyan Dao, as the shoal is called in China, without permission from the Chinese government.

According to the ministry, the Chinese Navy carried out identification and verification procedures in accordance with law and warned the US vessel to leave.

“What the US vessel did violated China’s sovereignty and security interests, put the safety of Chinese vessels and personnel who were in the relevant waters for official duties under grave threat, and contravened the basic norms for international relations. China is strongly dissatisfied with that and will take necessary measures to firmly safeguard its sovereignty,” foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said on Saturday.

This is the fifth freedom of operation the US Navy has carried out under president Donald Trump and the first in 2018.

The previous four freedom of navigation operations of 2017 were conducted by USS Dewey, USS Stethem, USS John S McCain and USS Chafee.

Freedom of navigation operations are conducted by the US to challenge whatever excessive claims countries might have in disputed regions.