The U.S. guided-missile destroyers Preble.
Both China and the US have in recent months ramped up their presence near the collection of outcroppings that barely rise above the water at high tide and lie just 230 km (140 miles) from the Philippine coast.
"Preble sailed within 12 nautical miles of Scarborough Reef in order to challenge excessive maritime claims and preserve access to the waterways as governed by worldwide law", explained Cmdr.
The U.S. has frequently criticized China for what it regards as the country's militarization of the South China Sea, while China, in turn, has regarded the U.S.' conduct in the region as a provocation.More news: Don't underestimate United States resolve, Hunt warns Iran
On Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang claimed the U.S.is "abusing its freedom of navigation" in the waterway, and accused the White House of trying to "disturb regional peace and stability".
Under such circumstances, the deliberate attempt by the U.S.to provoke trouble and create tension to disrupt the peace and stability of the South China Sea goes against people's common aspiration, Lu noted.
"The relevant actions of the U.S. warships violated China's sovereignty and undermined peace, security and good order in the relevant sea areas", Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said. Washington has repeatedly refused to acquiesce to Chinese protests over its incursions into the sea, citing the principle of "freedom of navigation". "We conduct routine and regular Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPS) as we have done in the past and will continue to in the future", he said, adding that the operations "are not about any one country, nor are they about making political statements".
Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have competing claims in the region.More news: Philadelphia Eagles: 3 potential in-house replacements for Chris Long
China and the U.S. have repeatedly traded barbs in the past over what Washington says is Beijing's militariation of the South China Sea by building military installations on artificial islands and reefs.
China has repeatedly accused the United States of carrying out provocations in the South China Sea, warning the country against sending vessels and warplanes close to the islands and reefs claimed by Beijing, urging its economic rival to "stop actions that undermine China's sovereignty and security interests".
The Preble's journey into the disputed waterway also coincided with bilateral naval drills being held in the South China Sea by the Indian and Singaporean Navies.More news: Sony's PlayStation Apparently Wasn't Aware of Its Partnership With Microsoft
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