May 6 (UPI) -- Two guided-missile destroyers passed through the South China Sea on Monday, again challenging Beijing's claim to the Gaven and Johnson reefs.
The U.S. Navy's USS Preble and USS Chung-Hoon asserted international rights to "innocent passage" and "challenge excessive maritime claims" to those areas, which are also claimed by the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
"All operations are designed in accordance with international law and demonstrate the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows," said Cmdr. Clay Doss, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy's Seventh Fleet.
This latest incident comes as the administration continues to negotiate a new trade deal with China to replace the ever-rising tariffs both countries have imposed on each other. President Donald Trump has threatened to impose billions of dollars in new tariffs if China doesn't bend on trade talks.
China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs Geng Shuang later said the country's navy "identified and warned off" the U.S. warships.
"The relevant moves by the U.S. warships have infringed on China's sovereignty and undermined peace and security in relevant waters," the ministry said. "We firmly oppose that."
The United States does not acknowledge China's territorial claims in those waters.
"China urges the United States to stop these provocative actions," Shuang said.
An international tribunal in 2016 also discredited China's claims.
A similar encounter in the same waters in September forced a destroyer, the USS Decatur, to make a sharp maneuver to avoid colliding with a Chinese warship.
The U.S. Navy routinely sends warships through the Taiwan Strait, which also angers Beijing.