BEIJING: China denounced a US warship sailing close to a disputed island in the South China Sea occupied by Beijing as a "serious political and military provocation", a move that could further strain relations between the superpowers.
Beijing dispatched military vessels and fighter planes in response to warn off the US vessel, foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said in a statement late Sunday night, state news agency Xinhua reported.
The USS Stethem destroyer passed less than 12 nautical miles (22 kilometres) from tiny Triton Island in the Paracel Islands archipelago, which is also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam, a US official told AFP.
The operation, meant to demonstrate freedom of navigation in disputed waters, came just hours before a previously scheduled phone call between President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.
"The Chinese side strongly urges the US side to immediately stop such kind of provocative operations that violate China's sovereignty and threaten China's security," the Chinese spokesman said, adding that Beijing would continue to take all necessary means to defend national sovereignty and security, according to Xinhua.