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The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the USS Mustin traveled close to Mischief Reef (Meiji Reef, 美濟礁) in the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島), which are also claimed by Taiwan, and carried out maneuvering operations.

The South China Morning Post, an English-language newspaper in Hong Kong, cited Ni Lexiong (倪樂雄), a Shanghai-based military expert, as saying the US was deliberately trying to put pressure on China with the warship as trade tensions between the two escalate.

"We ask the U.S.to respect the sovereignty and security of China, respect the will of countries in the region, who want peace, stability and tranquility, and not to make trouble out of nothing", he said, adding that further "provocation would only drive the Chinese military to continue to improve its defense capabilities".

China may react with more force in the future to what it considers United States military "provocations" in the South China Sea, a Hong Kong-based scholar said Saturday after Beijing responded strongly to a USA warship's move on Friday.

It said two Chinese Navy ships "took immediate action to identify and verify the U.S. ship, and warned and dispelled it".

"China holds indisputable sovereignty over the islands and their surrounding waters in the South China Sea", ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said in a statement.

The first time that a US destroyer carried out a "freedom of navigation" operation under President Donald Trump, was in May 2017. Nicole Schwegman, US Pacific Fleet spokeswoman, said.

Separately Friday, China's Navy said it would carry out "combat exercises" in the South China Sea in the coming days.

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The United States has criticized China's construction of islands and build-up of military facilities in the sea, and is concerned they could be used to restrict free nautical movement.

China claims the South China Sea and its land features as its sovereign territory, a claim disputed or rejected by other countries in the region.

For many years the South China Sea has been considered an global flashpoint, as the USA and China attempt to assert their influence in the region.

A rig, the Ensco 8504, was scheduled to depart from Singapore for the drill site on Thursday, the report said, citing an unnamed energy industry source.

But the ongoing nuclear crisis in North Korea and a distracted United States government under President Donald Trump has diverted attention from the area, allowing the Chinese government to tighten its hold.

The US military has a longstanding position that its operations are carried out throughout the world, including in areas claimed by allies, and they are separate from political considerations.

The guided-missile destroyer, the USS Dewey sailed within 12 nautical miles of the artificial Mischief Reef in the South China Sea's Spratly Islands at the time.