French nuclear submarine patrolled in South China Sea - Navy

PARIS, Feb 9 (Reuters) - A French nuclear-propelled attack submarine and warship patrolled in the South China Sea to underscore freedom of navigation in international waterways, the Armed Forces Ministry said on Tuesday.

Earlier in the day, the U.S. navy had said two U.S. carrier groups conducted joint exercises in the South China Sea, days after a U.S. warship sailed near Chinese-controlled islands in the disputed waters.

The latest French passage is a sign that U.S. allies are increasingly asserting freedom of navigation in international waterways near China.

“This strategy is based in particular on operational commitments, on a tradition of cooperation with regional states and on defense diplomacy which contributes in particular to support multilateralism, international law and the principle of freedom of navigation,” the French Armed Forces ministry said.

China has been infuriated by repeated U.S. sailings near the islands it occupies and controls in the South China Sea, saying it has irrefutable sovereignty and accusing the United States of deliberately stoking tension.

The French Emeraude submarine was supported by a warship as part of an eight-month mission that also includes passages in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly said on Twitter it showed the capacity of the French Navy to operate far away and in cooperation with its American, Australian and Japanese allies. (Reporting by John Irish; editing by Philippa Fletcher)