A U.S. guided-missile destroyer carried out a freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) near an artificial island controlled by China on Friday. China has territorial claims to about 90 percent of the South China Sea, which has put it at odds with its neighbors.
Neither China's Foreign nor Defence Ministries immediately responded to a request for comment. Nicole Schwegman, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
In October 2017, the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Chafee also sailed close to the Paracels, provoking a stern reaction from the Chinese Defense Ministry.
Since the People's Liberation Army Daily (the Chinese newspaper which reported the drills) did not elaborate on the specific timings of the drills or which part of the sea they would be carried out and which ships would take part in them, there is no way of telling if the drills were performed at the same time as the "freedom of navigation" operation.
China said the entry of the American guided-missile destroyer named USS Mustin in the contentious waters was a "serious political and military provocation" and it was also "warned off" by two Chinese vessels.
Friday's operation was the latest attempt to counter what Washington sees as Beijing's efforts to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters. Mischief Reef is one of several islands in the area that was artificially built up and equipped with military facilities by the Chinese over objections by the United States, worldwide courts, and several other nations with claims in the region, including the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
The U.S. fears the outposts could be used to restrict free movement in the waterway - which includes vital sea lanes through which about $3 trillion in global trade passes each year - and has conducted several FONOPs in the area. Mischief Reef is one of seven artificial islands built up by China in recent years to press their territorial claims to the island chain.
It said that the situation in the waterway had stabilized thanks to the efforts of China and Southeast Asia countries, but warned that the US insistence "on provoking incidents" and "creating tensions" in the South China Sea "runs counter to the desire of regional countries to seek stability, while promoting cooperation and development".
The Chinese Defense Ministry announced Friday it will conduct combat drills in the South China Sea in the near future, possibly including the nation's only operational aircraft carrier, the Liaoning. The US military put countering China and Russian Federation at the center of a new national defense strategy recently unveiled.
Along with China, parts of the South China Sea are subject to competing claims from Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Britain last month said one of its warships would pass through the South China Sea to assert freedom-of-navigation rights.