(CNN)-The United States deployed the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson to the disputed waters of the South China Sea on Saturday as part of maritime "routine operations."
Sailing with the 97,000-ton Vinson is the guided-missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer, the Navy said in a statement. The Vinson carries a flight group of more than 60 aircraft, including F/A-18 jet fighters.
The operation comes amid growing tensions between the United States and China over territory and trade, and as the Trump administration looks set to take a more confrontational stance toward China than its predecessor.
During his confirmation hearing, new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said China should be blocked from accessing the artificial islands it's built, setting the stage for a potential showdown.
In a news conference Wednesday, China's Foreign Ministry said it heard about the planned deployment of the Vinson days before it happened, and warned Washington against challenging its sovereignty.
"China respects and upholds the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea, which countries enjoy under international law, but firmly opposes any country's attempt to undermine China's sovereignty and security in the name of the freedom of navigation and overflight," China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.
The contested waters are a crucial shipping route at the heart of a territorial dispute that pits multiple countries against one another.
China has a long history of maritime disputes with its South China Sea neighbors.
China claims almost all of the South China Sea, including islands more than 800 miles from the Chinese mainland, despite objections from neighbors such as the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam.
Beijing has also created artificial islands in the area, outfitting some of them with military features. According to the US, China has reclaimed more than 3,000 acres in the Spratly Islands since 2014.
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