Another US warship, USS McCampbell, sailed within 12 nautical miles (22 kilometres) of the Paracel Islands chain - north of the Spratly Islands - on January 7 during a previous round of trade talks between the two countries. The ships entered the waters without China's permission, ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters.The US warships sailed near the islands the same day that China resumed trade talks with Washington.
Beijing has voiced its "strong dissatisfaction" with the United States on Monday after two U.S. warships sailed near islands claimed by China in the South China Sea.
"The relevant actions of the United States warships violated Chinese sovereignty and undermined peace, security, and order in the relevant sea areas".
"Such exercises have often been carried out by the U.S. Navy and have been the cause diplomatic tensions between Washington and Beijing. China expresses firm opposition and dissatisfaction to this".More news: New Zealand wildfires will burn for weeks, experts warn
The operation was the US's latest attempt to counter what it sees as China's mission to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters where Chinese, Japanese and Southeast Asian navies operated.
China claims nearly all of the strategic South China Sea and frequently lambasts the United States and its allies over naval operations near Chinese-occupied islands.
China claims most of the energy-rich South China Sea, as do several of its neighbors, including the Philippines, Vietnam, and Taiwan.
An unnamed USA official told Reuters on Monday that the two destroyers conducted a freedom of navigation exercise - the second by the U.S. in the region this year - within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef, where Beijing has purportedly built military facilities.More news: Teenager, 18, finally gets vaccinations and attacks his anti-vaxxer parents
"All operations are designed in accordance with global law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever worldwide law allows", said Doss.
The two countries have traded barbs over what U.S. said was Beijing's military installation building on artificial islands and reefs. In September, a Chinese warship came within just 45 yards of a US destroyer, raising concerns about the possibility of tensions boiling over into conflict.
Observers fear the trade dispute is just one element in the deteriorating relationship between the world's two top economies with top White House officials sharply criticising Beijing for everything from human rights abuses to cyber-warfare.
China says the construction is necessary for defence, and it was the U.S. that was responsible for tensions by sending warships and military planes close to islands Beijing claims.More news: Iran: Rouhani defies U.S. on 40th anniversary of Islamic Revolution