China says the US has committed an “illegal” act in sailing a navy warship near islands it claims in the South China Sea.
The USS Decatur passed near disputed islands earlier on Friday in what the US says was “a routine, lawful manner”.
It went close to the Paracel Islands, claimed by China but also by Taiwan and Vietnam.
China’s defence ministry said two of its warships had warned the USS Decatur to leave the area.
The ministry, which called the move “intentionally provocative”, said it had lodged a protest with the US.
It accused the US of being “motivated by a desire to see the world in chaos”.
US Navy Commander Gary Ross, a Department of Defence spokesman, said the ship passed through an area of water subject to what he called an “excessive” claim by China.
It is not known how close to the islands the ship passed.
“This operation demonstrated that coastal states may not unlawfully restrict the navigation rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea that the United States and all states are entitled to exercise under international law,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
China claims almost all of the South China Sea, including reefs and islands also claimed by other nations, and has caused dismay in the region by building artificial islands and restricting access.
But in July, an international tribunal ruled against Chinese claims to rights in the area, backing a case brought by the Philippines. China dismissed the ruling and said it would not be bound by it.
Last month, while visiting China for the G20 summit, President Obama told his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping he expected China to abide by the findings in what the White House called a “candid exchange”.