BEIJING (Sputnik) — The USS Chafee, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, entered waters near the islands on Tuesday without the permission of Chinese authorities, in order to carry out a so-called freedom of navigation operation. The Chinese side sent warships and aircraft to the area and urged the destroyer to leave the territory.
"The Chinese Defense Ministry is against repeating provocative actions of the US military… [and] determined to subsequently increase its defense capabilities, and resolutely defend national sovereignty and security interests," the statement read.
According to the statement, the current relations between the Chinese and US armed forces are "at an important stage of development."
The Paracel islands have been under China's control since 1974, but are at the same time claimed by both Taiwan and Vietnam.
China claims nearly all the South China Sea, through which around $3 trillion in international trade pass annually, the vast majority of it coming or going from China. Apart from China, Taiwan and Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia have claims in the waterway.