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A tense encounter unfolded Sunday between U.S. and Chinese vessels in the South China Sea.

A Chinese destroyer challenged the USS Decatur in the South China Sea on Sunday as the latter attempted to pass near a Chinese-occupied island, CNN first reported, citing U.S. officials.

He said the Chinese destroyer came within 45 yards of the front of the U.S. ship, giving the ship's captain seconds to react to avoid a collision.

China said it drove away a U.S. Navy warship that sailed close to a Chinese-occupied feature in the disputed South China Sea, in the latest show of tensions between the countries amid their escalating trade war.

Both outposts are among seven in the Spratlys that China has built up, with some transformed from so-called low-tide elevations not entitled to 12 nautical mile territorial seas into garrisons with massive radar installations, scores of buildings and military-grade runways.

The missile destroyer USS Decatur (pictured in 2016) operates in the South China Sea.

In July 2016, the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) issued a landmark ruling that Beijing's expansive "nine-dash line" claim to the South China Sea had no legal basis.

China's defense ministry said Tuesday that it dispatched a naval ship to warn the USA vessel to leave, calling the operation a threat to its sovereignty, according to Agence France-Presse.

A Chinese destroyer came aggressively close to a US Navy ship in the South China Sea, forcing it to manoeuvre to prevent a collision.

It is the second time in six months that the 12-mile zone has been entered by a United States ship in the Spratlys, a strategic group of reefs and artificial islands where China is said to have deployed missiles that can hit ships and aircraft.

The presence of American ships near the Chinese-claimed archipelago off the coast of the Philippines, Malaysia and southern Vietnam is "seriously threatening China's sovereignty and security" and "seriously undermining the relations between the two countries and the two militaries", Wu added.

It added: "China's military is resolutely opposed to this".

"The Chinese side strongly urges the United States side to immediately correct its mistakes and stop such provocative operations", Hua said, adding that China would take all necessary measures to safeguard its national sovereignty and security.

A statement Monday from the U.S. Pacific Fleet blasted the Chinese response as "aggressive".

The U.S. Navy regularly conducts FONOPs to challenge maritime claims the United States considers excessive.

"Our forces will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere global law allows", he said.

Beijing and Washington are locked in a trade war in which they have imposed increasingly severe rounds of tariffs on each other's imports.

Then Beijing called off a security meeting with Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis on Monday that had been scheduled for October, the New York Times reported.