A United States official said the destroyer USS Chafee sailed near the Paracel Islands on Tuesday, coming within 16 nautical miles (30 kilometers) of land.
The operation was part of a longstanding effort to challenge Beijing's "excessive maritime claims", the officials said, adding that the United States does not recognize China's claim of sovereignty in that location and regards the area as worldwide waters.
The US "stirs up trouble" and runs "in the opposite direction from countries in the region who aspire for stability, cooperation and development", a statement from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said at the time.
Meanwhile, in today's press briefing Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying said the Chinese military deployed air and sea assets to verify the identification and drive away the USA warship from Paracel Islands' territorial waters.
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USA officials said the Chafee carried out normal manoeuvring operations that challenged "excessive maritime claims" near the Paracels.
The US Navy missile destroyer Chafee entered into China's territorial waters near the Sansha islands on Tuesday.
However Hua said the warship breached "China's territorial line" in the region, which Beijing has drawn around the Paracel archipelago. If confirmed by the United States, it would be the fourth "freedom of navigation" operation (FONOP) carried out by the US Navy since President Donald Trump took office in January.
Vietnam, China, and Taiwan all have overlapping claims in Paracel Islands.
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Next month, Trump makes his first visit to Asia as president, including a stop in China, which he has been pressuring to do more to rein in North Korea. Sailing within that range is meant to show the U.S. does not recognise territorial claims. China is North Korea's neighbour and biggest trading partner.
Trump will visit China as well as South Korea, Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines.
"China would certainly be very unhappy about this, but it would not affect any other topic in Trump's visit", Renmin University global relations specialist Shi Yinhong said.
China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, and has heavily militarized some islands in the region and expanded other territories with major land reclamation work, turning sandbars into islands and equipping them with airfields, ports and weapons systems.
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