Tensions between the US and China have intensified after China's military accused the USS Milius, a guided-missile destroyer, of illegally entering waters around the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea on Thursday. China claims that its forces monitored, warned, and drove the US warship away. Tian Junli, a spokesman for China's Southern Theatre Command, said the US intrusion "threatened the peace and stability of the South China Sea region."

However, the US Navy 7th Fleet quickly rejected China's claims, stating that the USS Milius was conducting "routine operations" in the South China Sea and was not expelled. The fleet added, "The United States will continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows."

At its daily news briefing, China's Foreign Affairs Ministry reiterated Beijing's position that the American ship had breached its waters, urging the US to "stop such provocations." Spokesman Wang Wenbin emphasized, "China will take all necessary measures to safeguard its sovereignty and security and uphold peace and stability in the South China Sea."

The South China Sea has long been a strategically crucial waterway with frequent flashpoints between the world's two largest economies. In July 2021, China accused another American warship, the USS Benfold, of entering what it considers its territorial waters near the Paracel Islands.

China's claims of sovereignty over most of the South China Sea have been a source of tension with its neighbors and the US. An international tribunal ruled in 2016 that China's claims have no legal basis. The US and several of China's neighbors accuse Beijing of using "gray zone" tactics to intimidate other countries and exert greater control over the area without engaging in legally-defined acts of war. In response, the US regularly conducts "freedom of navigation" and other operations in international waters and airspace.

The USS Milius is named after Capt. Paul L. Milius, a US airman whose aircraft was presumed destroyed over Laos during the Vietnam War in 1968. The ship is capable of conducting anti-air, anti-submarine, surface, and strike warfare simultaneously, according to the Navy website.