Or at least it was theoretically the third patrol, since the Pentagon has been rather coy about confirming it happened, and the Chinese have forgone their customary complaints.
China has voiced discontent with the United States after an American warship sailed near an artificial island in the disputed South China Sea.
The operation comes four days after the US, Australia, and Japan denounced China's island-building and militarisation of the South China Sea on the sidelines of a security forum of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the Philippine capital, Manila. The Philippine military is thought to have monitored the freedom of navigation operation from a marine base located in a marooned ship on a nearby shoal, which sounds like one of the less appealing postings a Filipino marine could draw.
But Beijing's reaction to the latest American naval operation has underscored that China has its own geopolitical sore points with the White House, including weapons sales to Taiwan and the repeated freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea.
"China is very displeased with this and will bring up the issue with the U.S. side", the ministry said.
The problem with suspending them, as even this editorial acknowledges, is that many of America's regional allies see the operations as tangible reminders of the US commitment to keeping the South China Sea open for business.
Twelve nautical miles marks the territorial limits recognised internationally.
China has been ambiguous about its precise territorial claims around such artificial islands.
The islands are reportedly capable of hosting warplanes, mobile missile launchers and other military assets.
"They called and said "please turn around, you are in our waters", the official said.
"The new developments, that will have to be taken up [in] future ASEAN discussions", he added.
"McCain" illegally entered the waters near the reef and conducted a so-called "freedom of navigation operation" on Thursday without permission of the Chinese government, Xinhua quoted Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang as saying.
He also insisted that such operations "seriously endanger lives".
Geng said, "China has the firm determination to safeguard its territorial sovereignty and maritime interests". Nicole Schwegman said all Navy operations "are conducted in accordance with global law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever worldwide law allows".
AFP comments that in recent years Beijing has managed to weaken regional resistance to its South China Sea claims by courting some ASEAN members.
"China is resolutely opposed to this kind of show of force and pushing of regional militarization by the USA that may easily cause an unexpected incident at sea or in the air", the ministry said in a statement.
Geng reiterated that the United States provocation would force China to take further measures to strengthen homeland defense capacity.