A U.S. Navy destroyer carried out an operation near the Chinese man-made islands in the South China Sea an effort to challenge China’s territorial claims in the heavily trafficked international waters, Navy officials said.
Speaking with U.S. news agencies, the officials said the USS John S. McCain carried out a routine "freedom of navigation operation" Thursday that saw the ship travel within 12 nautical miles of the Spratly Islands and Mischief Reef.
One official told the French Press Agency the U.S. ship received at least 10 warnings from a Chinese frigate warning the Navy vessel to leave Chinese territory.
The U.S. ship responded by telling the Chinese ship it was conducting a legal operation in international waters. The entire interaction between the two ships lasted about six hours and was "safe and professional" from start to finish, the official said.
The development comes at a time of heightened tensions between the U.S. and North Korea and as the Trump administration is seeking China’s help in dealing with the nuclear threat posed by Pyongyang.
China claims the operation violated international and Chinese laws and said it “severely harmed China's sovereignty and security.”
"China is very displeased with this and will bring up the issue with the U.S. side," the country’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
The operation Thursday marks the latest attempt by Washington to challenge China’s tightening grip on the strategic waterway, which sees around $5 trillion worth of ship-borne trade pass through each year.
China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam are all involved in a long-standing dispute over rightful ownership of the busy waters.
While the U.S. is not involved directly in the dispute, it has expressed interest in ensuring the conflict is solved peacefully and trade is not disrupted.