US destroyer sails near China-claimed island in South China Sea

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USS Chafee, a US Navy destroyer which operates 100 percent on biofuel, sails about 150 miles (241 km) north of the island of Oahu during the RIMPAC Naval exercises off Hawaii July 18,2012. REUTERS/Hugh Gentry (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS MILITARY ENERGY ENVIRONMENT MARITIME) - GM1E87J151301

The guided-missile destroyer USS Chafee, seen here in 2012, sailed close to the islands but did not cross territorial boundaries. (REUTERS/Hugh Gentry)

A U.S. Navy destroyer sailed close to islands claimed by China in the South China Sea, a U.S. defense official confirmed to Fox News Tuesday.

The official emphasized that the USS Chafee, a guided missile destroyer, did not come within the internationally recognized 12-nautical-mile territorial limits of the Paracel Islands.

Tuesday's operation was first reported by Reuters.

The U.S. defense official told Fox that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis approved plans by the U.S. Navy to perform frequent patrols of the South China Sea. The official also described Tuesday's sailing as "not much of an operation" and "not very threatening."

The Paracel Islands are among a number of islets, reefs and shoals over which China and its neighbors have competing claims. In August, the USS John S. McCain sailed within 12 nautical miles of a man-made Chinese island, signalling the U.S. did not recognize Beijing's territorial claims there.

The latest sailing comes as the Trump administration is pressing China to help Washington deal with North Korea's weapons program.

Fox News' Lucas Tomlinson contributed to this report.

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