Chinese navy ships entered U.S. waters off Alaskan coast

Story highlights

  • The Chinese ships were doing operations "consistent with international law," U.S. officials told CNN
  • This is a first for Chinese naval ships -- and the transit took place while President Barack Obama was in Alaska

(CNN)Chinese navy ships entered U.S. territorial waters off of Alaska last week, coming within 12 miles of the coastline, multiple defense officials told CNN on Friday.

The Chinese ships were doing operations "consistent with international law," U.S. officials said, under the maritime rule of "innocent passage," where ships are permitted to enter territorial waters and are not challenged so long as they keep moving directly and expeditiously.
    U.S. officials emphasized that Russian warships exercise "innocent passage" around Alaska with regularity. However, this is a first for Chinese naval ships -- and the transit took place while President Barack Obama was in Alaska.
    U.S. Northern Command, whose area of responsibility includes all air, land and sea approaches to the continental U.S. and Alaska, told CNN it is not aware of any communications between the U.S. and Chinese military during the passage.
    When a CNN crew was aboard a U.S. P8 surveillance aircraft near manmade islands off the coast of China -- islands the U.S. does not recognize as Chinese territory -- the Chinese military warned the flight crew eight times to leave Chinese territory immediately.
    Asked about the difference, a defense official told CNN that as a matter of policy, the U.S. does not challenge ships executing safe transit through U.S. territorial waters, in part to be consistent with its history of challenging other nation's excessive territorial claims.