BEIJING (REUTERS) - China said on Friday (Nov 30) it had lodged "stern representations" with the United States after the US Navy sailed a ship through the contested South China Sea, passing near islands claimed by China.
Tension between the two powers in disputed Asian waters comes as their relationship has been strained by a trade row involving increasingly severe rounds of tariffs on billions of dollars worth of each other's imports.
The US guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville sailed near the Paracel Islands on Monday to challenge China's "excessive maritime claims", the US Pacific fleet said in a statement.
China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing that the US ship had entered Chinese waters without permission and China had made its position known with its "stern representations".
The Chinese military said it had sent ships and planes to watch the US ship and to warn it to leave.
The Chancellorsville's voyage was the latest in what the US calls freedom of navigation operations aimed at challenging what it sees as Chinese activity limiting freedom of movement in the strategic waters.
In particular, the US has criticised China's construction of islands on tiny reefs and shoals and its installation of military facilities on them, including air strips and docks.
China claims "irrefutable" sovereignty over most of the South China Sea and the islands in it, and accuses the US of raising military tension with its navy presence there.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan all claim parts of the waterway, through which about US$5 trillion (S$7 trillion) in ship-borne trade passes each year.