The Philippines’ top defense official on Sunday defended an American warship’s sailing near a disputed shoal in the West Philippine Sea, saying it should not be a cause for concern.

“No, for as long as they are on innocent passage. International law allows innocent passage even in territorial waters,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said.

The guided missile USS Hopper came within 22 kilometers of Panatag Shoal on Wednesday night, angering China, which seized the resource-rich fishing ground after a two-month maritime standoff with the Philippines in 2012.

Beijing protested the warship’s passage near the shoal, saying it would take “necessary measures” to protect its sovereignty.

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