The guided-missile destroyer USS Halsey steams through in the South China Sea, May 10, 2024.

The guided-missile destroyer USS Halsey steams through in the South China Sea, May 10, 2024. (Ismael Martinez/U.S. Navy)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — A Navy guided-missile destroyer cruised near a contested island chain in the South China Sea on Friday to protest “unlawful and sweeping maritime claims,” according to the U.S. 7th Fleet.

The USS Halsey sailed past the Paracels, a chain of reefs, shoals and other maritime features about 350 miles south of mainland China and 300 miles east of Vietnam, the command said in a news release Friday.

The Paracels are entirely claimed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan. Beijing, however, maintains about 20 outposts in the islands, according to the CIA’s World Factbook website.

The Halsey came within approximately 13 miles of four maritime features: Money Island, Duncan Island, Passu Keah and Discovery Reef, 7th Fleet spokeswoman Lt. Jamie Moroney told Stars and Stripes by email Friday.

The Chinese navy hailed the ship during operation, but all communications “were consistent with international norms,” she wrote.

The Navy routinely operates near the Paracels and the Spratlys, another contested island chain in the South China Sea, to protest restrictions on innocent passage. In the Paracels, all three claimants require either permission or advance notice before a military vessel travels through the area.

“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 imposed by [China], Taiwan, and Vietnam,” 7th Fleet wrote. “The United States demonstrated that innocent passage is not subject to such restrictions.”

The Halsey on Wednesday cruised through the Taiwan Strait, a 110-mile-wide channel that separates mainland China from Taiwan.

Beijing considers Taiwan, a functional democracy, to be a breakaway province that must be reunified with the mainland, by force if necessary.

A state-run Chinese military news website labeled that trip as provocative but official Chinese sources had not commented on the Halsey’s freedom-of-navigation demonstration as of Friday afternoon.

The Paracels operation coincided with the conclusion of Balikatan, an annual military exercise in the Philippines by 11,500 U.S. and Philippine troops and a smaller number of French and Australians. Portions of that training took place along the Philippine coast of the South China Sea, where Manila and Beijing also have competing claims.

The Halsey’s trip to the Paracels was the first publicly announced freedom-of-navigation operation by 7th Fleet this year. The guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey conducted the last operation on Nov. 3, when it sailed past four Chinese outposts in the Spratlys.

author picture
Alex Wilson covers the U.S. Navy and other services from Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. Originally from Knoxville, Tenn., he holds a journalism degree from the University of North Florida. He previously covered crime and the military in Key West, Fla., and business in Jacksonville, Fla.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now