The US Navy conducted a freedom-of-navigation operation near contested territory in the South China Sea on Thursday.
China's military said the ship trespassed and threatened the peace in the region.
The US argued its actions were lawful and that China's claims pose a threat to international freedom of the seas.
The US Navy challenged China's "unlawful" and "excessive" maritime claims Thursday with a FONOP – freedom-of-navigation operation – near the Paracel Islands, contested territory in the South China Sea.
The US Navy destroyer USS Benfold conducted the operation, challenging restrictions on innocent passage and excessive territorial claims by claimant states, China in particular.
The operation drew criticism from China, which accused the US Navy of violating its sovereignty and security. The US Navy responded by arguing that it "is defending every nation's right to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows," adding that "nothing PRC says otherwise will deter us."
The US Navy said in an official statement that "unlawful and sweeping maritime claims in the South China Sea pose a serious threat to the freedom of the seas, including the freedoms of navigation and overflight, free trade and unimpeded commerce, and freedom of economic opportunity for South China Sea littoral nations."
China's military expressed frustration with Thursday's US Navy operation, claiming the USS Benfold trespassed in territorial waters around the Xisha Islands, as China calls the Paracel Islands, and threatened the peace and stability of the region.
Although the US Navy regularly conducts FONOPs, not just in the contested South China Sea but around the world, China claims sovereignty over large swaths of the South China Sea and objects publicly whenever these operations occur.
"We solemnly demand the US side to immediately stop such provocative actions, otherwise it will bear the serious consequences of all possible contingencies," Chinese air force colonel and spokesperson for the People's Liberation Army Southern Theater Command Tian Junli said in a statement.
He further stated that "the troops of the PLA Southern Theater Command always stay on high alert and will take resolute actions to safeguard China's sovereignty and security as well as the peace and stability in the South China Sea."
The Chinese military claimed that Chinese naval and air assets monitored and tracked the US warship before the military "warned it off." The US rejected the PLA claim, characterizing it as "false."
The US Navy stressed in its statement that "USS Benfold conducted this FONOP in accordance with international law and then continued on to conduct normal operations in international waters."
The Paracel Islands have long been disputed territory, with China, Vietnam, and Taiwan all claiming sovereignty. China maintains practical control of the area, having built 20 outposts in the Paracel Islands as it continues to tighten its grip on the South China Sea.
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