China said it was "very displeased" after a U.S. Navy destroyer conducted a so-called freedom of navigation patrol (FONOP) within 12 nautical miles (22 km) of an artificial island built up by China in the South China Sea.
China expressed "strong dissatisfaction" Friday, after a US warship sailed near an artificial island in the strategic South China Sea.
China's Defense Ministry said two Chinese warships "jumped into action" and warned the USA ship to leave, labelling the move a "provocation" that seriously harms mutual trust, Reuters said.
"As you all know, U.S. forces will operate in the Asia-Pacific region". USA officials say the military will continue to sail, fly and operate wherever permitted by global law.
The reef is part of the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, which is the scene of rival claims between China and neighbouring countries.
USA national security advisor Lt Gen H R McMaster had said recently that "China is not doing enough on North Korea which continues to violate global norms by conducting missile tests".
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Sailing within those 12 miles is meant to show the USA does not recognise territorial claims there. "We told them we are a usa (ship) conducting routine operations in global waters".
This comes as the Trump administration has called on China to do more to reign in North Korea's nuclear missile program.
Beijing is tangled in a web of territorial disputes in the areas with five regional nations - Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines.
"The Spratly Islands consist of more than 100 small islands or reefs surrounded by rich fishing grounds - and potentially by gas and oil deposits", the CIA World Factbook said.
The Defense Ministry said U.S. and Chinese military relations are generally "stable" but said such actions foster mistrust between the nations.
China, which despite a pledge to the contrary, has continued to militarize the waters as it seeks to reinforce effective control of much of the waterway, through which at least $3 trillion in trade passes each year.
"The US provocation also forced the Chinese side to take measures to further enhance the national defense capability", it added.
"The US destroyer's actions have violated Chinese and global laws, as well as severely harmed China's sovereignty and security", it said.