A group of Chinese naval vessels transited U.S. territorial waters near Alaska this week, a Pentagon official said on Friday, in an unusual maneuver that underscores the potential for increased U.S.-Chinese friction at sea.

A U.S. military official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss details of the Chinese naval movements, said the group of five Chinese vessels had passed within about 12 nautical miles of the Aleutian Islands following a joint Russian-Chinese military exercise.

The ships did not violate international law, which allows countries to transit other nations’ seas under what is called “innocent passage,” the official said. He likened China’s movement through U.S. waters off Alaska to the activities of U.S. ships in the Strait of Hormuz, off the coast of Iran.

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