The Chinese military says it has dispatched warships after U.S. Navy vessels sailed near Beijing-claimed islands in the South China Sea.
The US Navy's Higgins and Antietam warships, a destroyer and cruiser respectively, entered China's territorial waters without permission and were met by the Chinese Navy, which "conducted verification and identification of US ships according to law and warned them to leave", the ministry said.
The US warships passed the Tree, Lincoln, Triton and Woody islands in the Paracels.
In a statement later on Sunday, China's defence ministry said the move "contravened Chinese and relevant global law, seriously infringed upon Chinese sovereignty (and) harmed strategic mutual trust between the two militaries".
China's Defence Ministry expressed its anger, saying it had sent ships and aircraft to warn the USA warships to leave, saying they had entered the country's territorial waters without permission.
China's foreign minister said China had a right to take whatever measures it deemed fit on its island holdings, and the defense ministry criticized the USA move as "unconstructive", saying it would do nothing to change China's resolve to "play a role in maintaining peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region".
'China will continue to take all necessary measures to defend the country's sovereignty and security, ' it added, without elaborating.
The U.S. warships were carrying out "freedom of navigation" operations, also called FONOPS, which the Navy says are a means to challenge excessive maritime claims and uphold rights to use of the sea under worldwide law.
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The two U.S. warships involved on Sunday were carrying out manoeuvre known as "freedom of navigation operations".
China's claims in the South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion in shipborne trade passes each year, are contested by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
Earlier this month, China riled Vietnam and the Philippines by landing bombers on a disputed set of islands in the South China Sea.
The U.S. had included China in the past two versions of the naval exercise known as Rim of the Pacific, or RimPac, in 2014 and 2016.
The communist state has been deploying significant military forces in the region.
The latest clash comes amid an ongoing fued between the two powers over the the disputed South China Sea.
Chinese officials have accused Washington of viewing their country in suspicious, "Cold War" terms.