The guided-missile destroyer USS Milius steams in the Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea, March 19, 2023,

The guided-missile destroyer USS Milius steams in the Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea, March 19, 2023, (Greg Johnson/U.S. Navy)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The U.S. Navy carried out a freedom-of-navigation operation Friday near islands in the South China Sea, a day after denying Chinese claims that its military had driven an American guided-missile destroyer from the area.

The USS Milius conducted the FONOP around the Paracels before leaving the area and “continued operations in the South China Sea,” 7th Fleet spokesman Lt. j.g. Luka Bakic told Stars and Stripes in an email Friday.

“Unlawful and sweeping maritime claims in the South China Sea pose a serious threat to the freedom of the seas, including the freedoms of navigation and overflight, free trade and unimpeded commerce, and freedom of economic opportunity for South China Sea littoral nations,” he wrote.

Beijing said actions by the Milius undermined “peace and stability in the South China Sea,” according to a Friday statement from China’s Ministry of National Defense.

“We solemnly request the U.S. side to immediately stop such provocative actions, otherwise it will bear the serious consequences of the accident caused by it,” ministry spokesman Tan Kefei said the statement. “The Chinese People's Liberation Army will take all necessary measures to resolutely safeguard national sovereignty and security, and resolutely maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea.”

The operation came less than a day after the Chinese Southern Theater Command claimed it had forced the Milius away from waters around the island chain, which is claimed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Bakic, in a Thursday statement to The Associated Press, denied the destroyer was forced to exit the area.

The Milius was “conducting routine operations” in the region Thursday before it entered the waters near the Paracels on Friday, he told Stars and Stripes.

After the FONOP on Friday, the Milius “continued on to conduct routine maritime security operations in international waters,” he said.

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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.

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