The U.S. Defense Department sent a navy warship to carry out a freedom of navigation operation in the disputed South China Sea Tuesday.
The USS William P. Lawrence sailed within 12 nautical miles of Chinese-occupied Fiery Cross Reef to "challenge excessive maritime claims of some claimants in the South China Sea," department of defense spokesman Bill Urban said.
"These excessive maritime claims are inconsistent with international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention in that they purport to restrict the navigation rights that the United States and all states are entitled to exercise," Urban said in an emailed statement.
China responded with anger Tuesday morning, with foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang telling a daily news briefing that the ship entered Chinese waters illegally and that the move threatened peace and stability in the region.
China has built a 10,000-foot runway and other military facilities on the disputed island.
This operation marks the third time in less than a year that the U.S. has conducted what it calls a freedom of navigation operation to challenge controversial territorial claims that China has made over islands in the South China Sea.
Beijing rejects the operations and claims that the disputes have been exaggerated.
Although the United States is not a claimant to the sovereignty over disputed islands in the South China Sea, senior officials have been saying it is vital to U.S. interests that various claimants pursue their claims peacefully and in accordance with international laws.
$5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year through the South China Sea, the majority of which China claims. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also have claims to parts of the sea.