US navy sail-by a 'threat to China's sovereignty': Beijing

US navy sail-by a 'threat to China's sovereignty': Beijing
This file handout photo taken on April 2, 2015 by satellite imagery provider DigitalGlobe and released to AFP by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative department at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSSI) think tank shows a satellite image of a general view of what is claimed to be an under-construction airstrip at the top end of Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands in the disputed South China Sea. The US Navy destroyer USS Lassen navigated early on October 27, 2015 within 12 nautical miles of artificial islands China is building in the South China Sea, a US defence official said.

BEIJING - Beijing slammed the US for sailing a warship near its artificial islands in the disputed but crucial South China Sea Tuesday, saying the move was a "threat to China's sovereignty".

The USS Lassen "illegally entered" the waters near the islands, foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said in a statement, "without receiving permission from the Chinese government".

"China resolutely opposes any country using freedom of navigation and overflight as a pretext for harming China's national sovereignty and security interests," Lu added.

The country "will staunchly defend its terriotrial sovereignty" and "resolutely respond to any country's deliberately provcative actions".

The Lassen sailed within 12 miles of artificial islands Beijing is building in the South China Sea, early Tuesday, a US defence official said earlier.

Tensions have mounted since China transformed reefs in the sea -- also claimed by several neighbouring countries -- into small islands capable of supporting military facilities, a move the US says threatens freedom of navigation.

In a sharply worded commentary, China's official Xinhua news agency said the sail-by was a "blatant provocation to China's territorial sovereignty and puts on a show of force under the excuse of testing freedom of navigation".

Such patrols will encourage "illegal demands" by other claimants, it added.

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