The U.S. Navy has sailed a warship near the disputed Scarborough Shoal, a strategic flash point in the South China Sea claimed by China, in a move expected to stoke anger in Beijing as the world's two biggest economies remain embroiled in a trade war.
The move, carried out by the guided-missile destroyer USS Preble, comes amid heightened tensions between China and the United States following the countries' failed trade talks.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said the USA destroyer Preble on Sunday trespassed in the adjacent waters of China's Huangyan Island without permission from the Chinese government. The U.S. fears the outposts could be used to restrict free movement in the waterway - which includes vital sea lanes through which about $3 trillion in global trade passes each year - and regularly conducts FONOPs in the area. -China relationship, which include a trade war, US sanctions and Taiwan.
The U.S. has frequently criticized China for what it regards as the country's militarization of the South China Sea, while China, in turn, has regarded the U.S.' conduct in the region as a provocation. The busy waterway is one of a growing number of flashpoints in the US-China relationship, which also include a trade war, US sanctions and Taiwan.
"I must stress once again that the US warship's relevant actions have violated China's sovereignty and undermined the peace, security and good order in the relevant sea areas".
"We strongly urge the US side to immediately stop such provocative actions so as to not harm China-US relations and the peace and stability of the region", said Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang at a press briefing.
But he added: "Their moving into the South China Sea is not because they want freedom of navigation".
Sunday's operation was the latest attempt to counter what the United States believes is China's efforts to curb freedom of navigating in the South China Sea.
Beijing has built artificial islands and military installations in the sea, including on the Spratly Islands, which Beijing calls Nansha.
China claims all the islands in the South China Sea, however, it is also claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia and Taiwan.
China defends its construction as necessary for self-defence and says the United States is responsible for ratcheting up tension by sending warships and military planes close to islands Beijing claims.