(Bloomberg) -- The US Navy hit back at the Chinese military over a claim it drove off a destroyer sailing in the South China Sea, the latest in a series of disputes between the nations.

The USS Milius “illegally entered Chinese waters without the Chinese government’s approval,” China’s Southern Theater Command said in a statement on social media Thursday. “The command organized naval and air forces to follow, monitor and warn it to drive it away in accordance with the law.”

The US 7th Fleet disputed that version of events, saying in an email to Bloomberg News that the “statement is false.” The vessel was “conducting routine operations in the South China Sea and was not expelled. The United States will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows.”

The two nations sparred last month over allegations a Chinese spy balloon flew over the US and as Washington tries to deprive China of advanced chip technology to slow its military expansion. Chinese leader Xi Jinping has accused the US of trying to suppress his nation’s development.

See: China Accused of Fresh Territorial Grab in South China Sea

Beijing asserts it has rights to more than 80% of the South China Sea, whose other claimants are the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Brunei. The US refuses to recognize China’s claim, and regularly conducts what it calls freedom of navigation operations to challenge what the Defense Department terms “excessive maritime claims.”

The US Navy didn’t describe the Milius’s trip as one of those operations. That means China may be playing closer attention and publicizing routine movements by the US military that in the past didn’t draw attention. The US Navy last announced a FONOP in the South China Sea in November.

Late last year, Western officials said China was building up several unoccupied land features in the sea — an unprecedented move they said was part of Beijing’s long-running effort to strengthen claims to disputed territory in a region critical to global trade.

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