A U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer, the USS Lassen, sailed close to China's man-made islands in the disputed South China Sea on Tuesday, drawing an angry rebuke from Beijing, which said it warned and followed the American vessel. One U.S. defense official said the exercise would be the first in a series of freedom-of-navigation exercises aimed at testing China's territorial claims.

China's Foreign Ministry said the "relevant authorities" monitored, followed and warned the USS Lassen as it "illegally" entered waters near islands and reefs without the Chinese government's permission.

"China will resolutely respond to any country's deliberate provocations," the ministry said in a statement that gave no details on precisely where the U.S. ship sailed.

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Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang later told a daily briefing that if the United States continued to "create tensions in the region," China might conclude it had to "increase and strengthen the building up of our relevant abilities".

China's Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui summoned U.S. Ambassador Max Baucus on Tuesday to protest against a U.S. naval patrol close to China's man-made islands in the South China Sea, Chinese state television said. Zhang called the U.S. patrol "extremely irresponsible" and urged the United States to cease actions that harm China's sovereignty and security interests, China Central Television reported.

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White House spokesman Josh Earnest referred questions on any specific operations to the Pentagon but said the United States had made clear to China the importance of free flow of commerce in the South China Sea. China claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion of world trade passes every year. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims.