Beijing: A US warship sailed through the disputed South China Sea, the third American vessel in less than a year to pass through the waters near the artificial islands built by China to assert freedom of navigation, triggering an angry reaction from the Communist nation.
USS William P Lawrence , a guided missile destroyer, illegally entered China's waters near the islands today without the permission of the Chinese government, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said.
Lu said the warship was monitored, tracked and issued with a warning.
US Department of Defence spokesman Bill Urban said in Washington that the freedom of navigation operation was in direct challenge to "excessive maritime claims of some claimants in the South China Sea."
China claims almost all of South China Sea which is disputed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
US has been dispatching its warships into the waters claimed by China to assert freedom of navigation.
"The action by the US threatens China's sovereignty and security, endangers the safety of people and facilities on the reef, and harms regional peace and stability," Lu said.
"China strongly opposes such action by the US and will continue to take measures to safeguard our sovereignty and security," he said, adding that China and other coastal states in the South China Sea have been working together to keep navigation and overflight free in the area for a long time.
In fact, the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea has never been a problem, Lu said.
He said the US introduced freedom of navigation operations in 1979 before the signing of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), a treaty to which the United States is still not a party.
The purpose of these recurring "patrols" is to disrupt the order of the seas and oceans without adhering to the UN convention, he added.
The US sends military vessels and aircraft on surveillance missions against China as simple acts of provocation, Lu said, adding that the US actually considers itself above the UNCLOS and these activities are opposed by many countries.
Lu said that the flexing of US military muscle in the name of freedom of navigation is the biggest threat to peace and stability in the area.