WEST PHILIPPINE SEA — Two U.S. Navy warships sailed near the South China Sea islands on Sunday while carrying out "freedom of navigation operations," two American officials told Reuters.
The USS Antietam, a guided missile cruiser, and the USS Higgins, a guided-missile destroyer came within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Islands.
The American vessels carried out maneuvering operations close too Tree, Lincoln, Triton and Woody islands in the Paracels, one of the officials told Reuters.
China said in a statement from the Ministry of National Defense on its website that it confronted the U.S. ships and warned them to leave.
The chief spokesman for China's Ministry of National Defense, Senior Col. Wu Qian, said that the U.S. "gravely violated Chinese sovereignty," according to the New York Times.
Tensions have been on the rise in the area after China for the first time landed one of its long-range H-6K strategic bombers on one of its man-made island in the Paracels, Woody Island.