A U.S. navy destroyer sailed near islands claimed by China in the South China Sea on Friday, drawing a warning from Chinese warships to leave the area. The U.S. action was the latest attempt to counter what Washington sees as Beijing’s efforts to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters, U.S. officials said.

The Chinese Defense Ministry called the move “illegal” and “provocative,” saying that two Chinese warships had warned the U.S. destroyer to leave. The guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur challenged “excessive maritime claims” near the Paracel Islands, among a string of islets, reefs and shoals over which China has territorial disputes with its neighbors, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity. FULL REPORT