The Navy Times reported on Sunday that officials with the Pacific Command and US Navy were considering having the Carl Vinson carrier strike group, based in San Diego, conduct freedom of navigation patrols in the waterway.
Geng Shuang, spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, said that tensions in the disputed area had eased due to cooperation between Beijing and countries in Southeast Asia, and the presence of foreign nations could threaten this.
Geng told a news briefing, "We urge the U.S. not to take any actions that challenge China's sovereignty and security."
October 2016 was the last time a US vessel conducted a freedom of navigation patrol in waters claimed by Beijing when the USS Decatur, a guided-missile destroyer, sailed near the Parcel Islands.
China denounced the operation as "illegal" and "provocative." The last three of these movement have all come within 12 miles of areas claimed by Beijing.
"The Carl Vinson Strike Group is on a regularly scheduled Western Pacific deployment as part of the US Pacific Fleet-led initiative to extend the command and control functions of the US 3rd Fleet," said Dave Bennett, Carrier Strike Group One spokesman.
He added that "US Navy aircraft carrier strike groups have patrolled the Indo-Asia-Pacific regularly and routinely for more than 70 years."
Washington has criticized China installing anti-missile and anti-aircraft weapons on some of it’s man-made islands in the region, with the The Center for Strategic and International Studies releasing a report in December 2016 suggesting that "Among other things, (the armaments) would be the last line of defense against cruise missiles launched by the United States or others against these soon-to-be-operational air bases."
In January US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the US would try to stop China from accessing those islands, but Bonnie Glaser of the CSIS recently told Navy Times, "I doubt it it's possible to compel China to withdraw from its newly built islands in the Spratlys. But the U.S. could develop a strategy aimed at preventing more land reclamation, capping militarization and deterring China from using its new outposts to intimidate and coerce its neighbors."
China’s Defense Ministry has defended the weapons as "legitimate and lawful."
About $5 trillion in trade passes through the South China Sea each year, with China laying claim to most of the area. Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia have claims as well.
In July 2016 the Hague ruled that China had no legal right to claim such a large portion of the South China Sea. Beijing balked at the decision, calling it "null and void” and a "farce."
Chinese President Xi Jinping boycotted the proceedings, saying at the time that "China will never accept any claim or action based on those awards."