USS Curtis Wilbur
Washington's USS Curtis Wilbur sails 12 nautical miles off island, which is claimed by ChinaHandout via Reuters

China has warned that there would be "extremely dangerous consequences" after the US sailed a warship near a disputed island in the South China Sea. Beijing called Washington's action provocative and said it posed a threat to territorial stability in the region.

China's defence ministry, expressing its "resolute opposition", said the country's army would do whatever is necessary to protect its sovereign interests in the region. Ministry spokesperson Yang Yujun said Washington's action is "a serious violation of law, it damaged the peace and security of relevant waters and good order, and is not helpful to regional peace and stability".

The USS Curtis Wilbur, a guided missile destroyer, sailed 12 nautical miles near Triton Island over the weekend. Both Washington and Beijing offered different versions of the incident which took place in one of the hotly contested regions.

"The Chinese troops stationed at the islands and naval ships and airplanes made an immediate response, took countermeasures and conducted identification and verification against the US warship," said Yang. The version was also echoed by the China Daily, an editorial in which read: "China drives off US destroyer intruding into Xisha Islands waters".

This is not the first time the US has dispatched warships to the South China Sea, prompting a similar reaction from Beijing.

Commander Bill Urban, a spokesperson for the US Defence Department, defended the US manoeuvre: "This operation was about challenging excessive maritime claims that restrict the rights and freedoms of the United States and others, not about territorial claims to land features."

The archipelago, comprising about 750 islands and reefs, is believed to be rich in oil and gas resources. The chain of islands has been at the centre of an international dispute in recent years with China claiming almost the entire region. Multiple countries including Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam are embroiled in overlapping claims.