The U.S. Navy says it has asserted its “navigational rights and freedoms in the South China Sea” by sailing one of its destroyers near the disputed Spratly Islands. 

The 7th Fleet said the freedom of navigation operation conducted Saturday by the USS Benfold upholds “the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging restrictions on innocent passage imposed by the People’s Republic of China, Vietnam and Taiwan. “

Several Asian nations also have declared overlapping claims to the South China Sea.  

China says it does not halt the passage of ships and has accused the U.S. of stirring trouble with such claims.   

Freedom of navigation is considered essential for modern commerce as it is the means of transportation of billions of goods.   

The Navy said in a statement, “The United States upholds freedom of navigation for all nations as a principle.”

An international tribunal has invalidated China’s South China Sea claims, but that has not stopped China from producing artificial islands in the waterway, with some of the manmade landscape housing airports causing some international concerns about what China intends to do with the islands.   

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