A guided-missile destroyer, USS Decatur sailed within 12 nautical miles (13.8 miles on land) of reefs near the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, two US officials claim.
China has asserted ownership of the Spratly islands, something which was hotly contested by the US officials as “excessive maritime claims”.
Speaking to CNN, one of the officials said: “US Forces operate in the Indo-Pacific region on a daily basis, including the South China Sea. All operations are designed in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows.
The official said these operations “challenge excessive maritime claims and demonstrate our commitment to uphold the rights, freedoms, and uses of the sea and airspace guaranteed to all nations under international law.”
China has engaged in an ongoing dispute with the US over territorial control in the South China Sea.
In 2015, the US began deploying military warships and aircraft to the region, in a bid to dismiss China’s territorial claims.
Last week, on September 25, Chinese officials warned the UK to stay out of the conflict after Royal Navy Warships were spotted close to the disputed territory in the South China Sea.
Officials quoted China’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi as saying: “China hopes that Britain will truly implement its position of not taking sides in the South China Sea issue, earnestly respect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and not do anything to disturb mutual trust between the two countries.”
Tensions between China and the US have been steadily mounting on multiple fronts, as the two nations clash on military power, trade and cyber-warfare.
On September 26, US President Donald Trump accused China of meddling in elections with the intention of harming him personally.
Mr Trump said: “They do not want me, or us, to win because I am the first President ever to challenge China on trade.”
His comments came a week after his administration announced a 10% tariff on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods, which would eventually mean half the products China sells to the US would be penalized.
Mr Wang said: “International trade is complementary and win-win by nature. It should not be a zero-sum game in which one gains at the expense of others, and no one should be allowed to place its own interest above the interest of others.”
US Secretary of Defence James Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon that the two nations would have to learn to manage their differences.