Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said China would take “necessary measures” to protect its sovereignty after the USS Hopper sailed within 12 nautical miles of Scarborough Shoal on Wednesday evening without China’s permission.
Scarborough is a tiny, uninhabited reef that China seized from the Philippines in 2012. Known in Chinese as Huangyan Island, it lies about 200 kilometers (120 miles) west of the main Philippine island of Luzon, and about 600 kilometers (370 miles) southeast of China.
Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian said a Chinese missile frigate moved to identify and verify the US vessel and warned it to leave the area.
“We hope that the US respects China’s sovereignty, respects the efforts by regional countries and do not make trouble out of nothing,” Wu said in a statement on the ministry’s website.
The South China Sea has crucial shipping lanes, rich fishing grounds and potential oil, gas and other mineral deposits.
China claims virtually the entire South China Sea and has carried out extensive land reclamation work on many of the islands and reefs it claims, equipping some with air strips and military installations.
The United States does not claim territory in the South China Sea but has declared it has a national interest in ensuring that the territorial disputes there are resolved peacefully in accordance with international law.
The Navy regularly sails through the area to assert freedom of navigation.