BEIJING: China strongly condemned the United States after a U.S. warship deliberately sailed near one of the Beijing-controlled islands in the hotly contested South China Sea to exercise freedom of navigation and challenge China’s vast territorial claims.

The missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur sailed within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island in the Paracel chain “to challenge excessive maritime claims of parties that claim the Paracel Islands,” without notifying the three claimants beforehand, Defense Department spokesman Mark Wright said Saturday in Washington.

China, Taiwan and Vietnam have overlapping claims in the Paracels and require prior notice from ships transiting what they consider their territorial waters. The latest operation was particularly aimed at China, which has increased tensions by embarking on massive construction of man-made islands and airstrips in contested areas.

In October, another U.S. warship sailed in the nearby Spratly Islands near Subi Reef.

Wright said the attempts to restrict navigational rights by requiring prior notice are inconsistent with international law. U.S. officials said that such ship movements would be regular in the future.

China responded swiftly. Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun issued a statement saying the U.S. action “severely violated Chinese law, sabotaged the peace, security and good order of the waters, and undermined the region’s peace and stability,” according to the official Xinhua News Agency.