Two US warships have sailed near islands claimed by China today in a move that could aggravate tense relations between the countries.
According to the US military, the guided-missile destroyers Preble and Chung Hoon travelled within 12 nautical miles of Gaven and Johnson Reefs by the Spratly Islands, in the South China Sea.
The waterway is one area of dispute between the US and China that has the potential of triggering a war.
Commander Clay Doss, a spokesman for the Seventh Fleet, told Reuters the innocent passage aimed to challenge excessive maritime claims and preserve access to the waterways as governed by international law.
In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang stated that the US ships were warned to leave by the Chinese navy.
He said the ships entered the waters without the Chinese governments permission, adding that the move had infringed upon Chinese sovereignty and damaged the peace, security and good order of the relevant seas.
China is strongly dissatisfied with this and resolutely opposed to it, he said.
Geng added that China would take the necessary steps to defend its security, warning the US to stop such provocative actions.
The U.S. military has a long-standing position that its operations are carried out throughout the world, including areas claimed by allies, and that they are separate from political considerations.