China’s military has said it has asked a US warship to leave its territorial waters in the South China Sea. The destroyer USS Milius was “warned” to “leave” the area after entering the waters around the Paracel Islands, the People’s Liberation Army’s Southern Territorial Command said on Thursday. The US military immediately dismissed the claims from China as “false”.

China’s military accused the US warship of “illegal entry” into Chinese territorial waters “without the permission of the Chinese government”. The ship “damaged” the peace and stability in the region.

The US military called the statements from China “false”. The USS Milius “is conducting routine operations in the South China Sea and has not been deported,” a spokesman for the US Indo-Pacific Command told AFP. “The United States will continue to fly, ship and operate wherever international law allows,” he added.

China claims practically the entire South China Sea for itself. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam also lay claim to parts of the sea area, which is of enormous strategic and economic importance for the neighboring countries. Beijing is also fueling the territorial conflict by piling up artificial islands and building military installations there. Neighboring countries also accuse Chinese ships of harassing fishing boats.

The US considers Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea to be illegal and uses military vessels to enter the area to assert freedom of navigation in international waters. In addition to China, Taiwan and Vietnam also claim the Paracel Islands.