A U.S. Navy destroyer sailed through waters claimed by China in the South China Sea Friday, according to a Pentagon statement.

The USS Decatur sailed in the vicinity of the Paracel Islands, which is occupied by China but also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.

The ship sailed in that area "to uphold the rights and freedoms of all States under international law, as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention," said spokesman Cmdr. Gary Ross. "This operation demonstrated that coastal States may not unlawfully restrict the navigation rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea that the United States and all States are entitled to exercise under international law."

He added that the ship did not pass within 12 nautical miles of any islands, but that the operation "was about challenging excessive maritime claims, not territorial claims to land features.

"The United States has been clear that we take no position on competing territorial sovereignty claims to naturally formed land features in the South China Sea."