Beijing: Chinese Navy on Tuesday had its first major face off with a US warship after it ignored Beijing's warning and sailed close to artificial islands China is building in the disputed South China Sea, prompting China to denounce the incident as a "threat" to its sovereignty.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry expressed "strong discontent" and "resolute opposition" over a US warship patrol near "Zhubi (Subi) Reef", which is part of "Nansha" Islands in the South China Sea also known as Spratly Islands, claimed by China.
China's angry reaction came after Pentagon said USS Lassen, a guided missile destroyer, sailed within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island Beijing is building in the Spratly Islands without the permission of the Chinese government.
"This action by the US threatens China's sovereignty and security interests, endangers the safety of personnel and facilities in the reef, and harms regional peace and stability," ministry spokesperson Lu Kang told a media briefing here.
The US warship was monitored, tracked and issued with warning, Lu said declining to provide details of how many Chinese vessels were involved in the face off with the US destroyer, the first after US asserted that its naval ships and planes will sail and fly through the South China Sea to assert freedom of navigation.
"Make no mistake, the US will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, as we do around the world, and the South China Sea will not be an exception," US Defence Secretary Ash Carter has warned during his recent Australia tour.
China claims sovereignty over almost the whole of the South China Sea, which transit some of the busiest sea lanes in the world and is believed to sit atop a vast amount of oil wealth.
Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan contest China's claims of sovereignty over all of South China Sea and receive security support from the US.
Earlier Today, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has warned US not to "make trouble out of nothing".
"We advise the US to think twice before it takes any action," he said at a meeting when asked about Washington's plan to send naval ships to the contested waters.
Replying to a question at the briefing, Lu said China's claims over the area is legal and legitimate and "what US has done is to harm itself", he said.
Asked what China will do if US ships and planes continue to go through the area, Lu said, "If the relevant party keep up raising the tension then the Chinese side may have to reach a conclusion that it is necessary for us to strengthen and seed up construction activities. We hope US will not take action that will back fire."