(ANSA) - ROME, MARCH 23 - The Chinese military said it had spotted a US warship in the South China Sea and "warned it to leave" the waters claimed by Beijing.
China claims sovereignty over nearly all of the South China Sea, a strategic waterway through which trillions of dollars of trade pass each year, despite an international court ruling ruling the claim has no legal basis.
The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei all have overlapping claims at sea, while the United States sends warships across it to assert freedom of navigation in international waters.
The Southern Theater Command of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) said today the USS Milius, a guided-missile destroyer, entered the waters around the Paracel Islands, which are also claimed by Vietnam.
The PLA "organized the maritime and air forces to track and monitor (the ship) in accordance with the law" and "urged her to leave," spokesman Tian Junli said.
The vessel "performed an illegal incursion into Chinese territorial waters ... without the permission of the Chinese government, damaging peace and stability" in the region, it said.