A US guided-missile destroyer has conducted a patrol near the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, which are claimed by China, “to challenge excessive maritime claims”, a Navy officer said.
The USS McCampbell carried out a “freedom of navigation” operation, sailing within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Island chain, Pacific Fleet spokeswoman Rachel McMarr said.
The operation was not about any one country or to make a political statement, she added.
China lodged “stern representations” over the action, its foreign ministry said.
Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular briefing the US operation had violated China’s law and urged the US to stop such actions.
It comes as US officials join talks in Beijing during a 90-day truce in a bitter trade war.
Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, agreed to put a spiralling trade dispute on hold in December.
Mr Trump has imposed tariffs on China to pressure Beijing to change its practices on issues ranging from corporate espionage to market access and industrial subsidies.
China retaliated with tariffs of its own, sparking a tit-for-tat exchange that has raised prices on goods worth hundreds of billions of dollars.
China claims almost all of the strategic waters in the South China Sea and frequently complains about the US and its allies carrying out freedom-of-navigation operations near Chinese-occupied islands.
Competing claims in the region have been made by Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia and Taiwan.
China and the US have repeatedly quarrelled over what Washington says is Beijing’s militarisation of the South China Sea, through which around $3trn (£2.3trn) of shipborne trade passes each year.
China has built military installations on artificial islands and reefs, constructions it defends as necessary for self-defence.
Beijing contends Washington is responsible for increasing tensions in the region by sending warships and military planes close to islands it claims.