BEIJING • China expressed anger yesterday after a US Navy destroyer sailed near islands claimed by Beijing in the disputed South China Sea, saying it was resolutely opposed to an operation that it called a threat to its sovereignty.
Beijing and Washington are locked in a trade war in which they have imposed increasingly severe rounds of tariffs on each other's imports.
A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the USS Decatur travelled within 12 nautical miles of Gaven and Johnson reefs in the Spratly Islands on Sunday. The naval operation was the latest attempt by Washington to counter what it sees as Beijing's efforts to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters.
China's Defence Ministry said a Chinese navy ship had been sent to warn the US vessel to leave. The ministry said China has irrefutable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and the waters around them, and the situation there is progressing well thanks to the hard work of China and countries in South-east Asia.
"The US side repeatedly sends military ships without permission into seas close to South China Sea islands, seriously threatening China's sovereignty and security, seriously damaging Sino-US military ties and seriously harming regional peace and stability," the ministry said.
"China's military is resolutely opposed to this," it added.
The Chinese armed forces will continue to take all necessary steps to protect the country's sovereignty and security, the ministry said.
China's Foreign Ministry said in a separate statement it strongly urged the United States to stop such "provocative" actions and to "immediately correct its mistakes".
The US naval operation also comes as military ties between the two countries have dived, with Beijing also angered by Washington's sanctions on China's military for buying Russian arms and by US support for self-ruled Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own.
Meanwhile, US Defence Secretary James Mattis said on Monday he did not see Sino-US relations worsening, a day after his trip to China was cancelled.
Reuters reported on Sunday that China cancelled a security meeting with Mr Mattis that had been planned for this month. A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Mr Mattis was no longer going to China. China has not yet commented on the matter.
Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe is due to visit the US later this year but China's Defence Ministry suggested last week that the visit may not happen.