The U.S. Navy sent a guided-missile destroyer close to China's man-made islands in the disputed South China Sea on Tuesday, drawing an angry rebuke from Beijing, which said it warned and followed the American vessel.
The patrol by the USS Lassen was the most significant U.S. challenge yet to 12-nautical-mile territorial limits China asserts around the islands in the Spratly archipelago and could ratchet up tensions in one of the world's busiest sea lanes.
One U.S. defense official said the USS Lassen sailed within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef. A second defense official said the mission, which lasted a few hours, also included Mischief Reef and would be the first in a series of freedom-of-navigation exercises aimed at testing China's territorial claims.
China's Foreign Ministry said the "relevant authorities" monitored, followed and warned the USS Lassen as it "illegally" entered waters near islands and reefs in the Spratlys without the Chinese government's permission.
"China will resolutely respond to any country's deliberate provocations. We will continue to closely monitor the relevant seas and airspace, and take all necessary steps in accordance with the need," the ministry said in a statement that gave no details on precisely where the U.S. ship sailed.
"China strongly urges the U.S. side to conscientiously handle China's serious representations, immediately correct its mistake and not take any dangerous or provocative acts that threaten China's sovereignty and security interests," it said.