The US Navy’s latest ‘Freedom of Navigation Operations’ movements in the disputed South China Sea have flared up fresh tensions between the US and China.

Vessels from the US Navy, including littoral combat ship Gabrielle Giffords and Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Wayne E Meyer, sailed near islands claimed by the Chinese Government.

The US routinely conducts Freedom of Navigation Operations in the South China Sea to assert and uphold the right of safe and free access to waterways in line with international norms.

The USS Gabrielle Giffords came within 12nm of Mischief Reef on 20 November, US Seventh Fleet spokesperson commander Reann Mommsen told Reuters.

Mommsen stated that USS Wayne E Meyer steamed past the Paracel Islands the following day.

She was quoted by the news agency as saying: “These missions are based in the rule of law and demonstrate our commitment to upholding the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea and airspace guaranteed to all nations.”

Chinese officials have condemned the US Navy’s operations as another round of provocations.

The military establishment said that it maintained surveillance of the two US Navy ships.

China Southern Theatre Command spokesperson said: “We urge (the United States) to stop these provocative actions to avoid any unforeseeable accidents. China has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and its surrounding area.”

The territorial status of the South China Sea has been disputed between China and other regional countries, including Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Smaller neighbouring nations claiming stake to parts of the disputed waterways object to China’s military build-up in the region.

Earlier this year, China conducted a series of anti-ship ballistic missile tests in the waterways.