The first confrontation occurred on Thursday when the USS Milius guided-missile destroyer sailed near the group of islands.
On Friday, the ship was spotted again in the vicinity of the islands, as part of a “freedom of navigation operation” challenging requirements from China, Taiwan,and Vietnam, that require advance notification or permission before a military vessel can pass through.
All three nations lay claim to the strategic waterway.
China said on Friday that the US’s actions violate its sovereignty and security and said its navy and air force had forced the American vessel away, something the US military has denied. Beijing also warned the US of “serious consequences”.
The latest incident comes as tensions between the US and China have plumetted to new lows.
“The United States challenges excessive maritime claims around the world regardless of the identity of the claimant,” said US 7th Fleet spokesman Luka Bakic.
China’s Ministry of National Defense responded by accusing the US of “undermining the peace and stability of the South China Sea”.
“The act of the US military seriously violated China’s sovereignty and security, severely breached international laws, and is more ironclad evidence of the US pursuing navigation hegemony and militarizing the South China Sea,” ministry spokesman Tan Kefei said.
He said China will take “all necessary measures” to ensure security, but did not elaborate further.
In recent years, China has become increasingly assertive in the region, prompting the US to push back.
The issue has been a source of tension between the two nations for long. The other problems the countries have bickered about include Taiwan’s independence, human rights accusations against China and the origins of the Covid pandemic.
Recently, a Chinese balloon the US accused China of using for surveillance, was shot down by the former, leading to a further strain in tensions.
The US maintains its actions in the South China Sea are justified under international law.
“The operation reflects our commitment to uphold freedom of navigation and lawful uses of the sea for all nations,” Mr Bakic said.
The South China Sea is an important waterway for global trade, with around $5 trillion in trade passing through each year. Additionally, the area holds valuable fish stocks and undersea mineral resources.
China’s claims to the region have frequently brought it into conflict with other nations, including the Philippines. Filipino diplomats recently protested China’s aggressive behaviour, including targeting a Philippine coast guard ship with a powerful military laser.
The US has been present in the South China Sea for more than a century and its forces currently operate there daily.
In 2016, a UN-backed arbitration tribunal ruled that China’s historical claim to the waters had no legal basis under the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Seas.
Tensions between the US and China continue to escalate in the region despite the ruling.
Additional reporting by agencies
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