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.