The South China Sea is a highly contested region and faces claims from China, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines. Diplomatic relations between the nations are already extremely strained.

Despite having no claim over any part of the archipelago, the US has increased its military presence in the region in a bid to counter Beijing’s dominance.

But now, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has expelled the USS Curtis Wilbur destroyer despite the US Navy claiming it was complying with international law.

A spokesman for China’s Southern Theatre Command said China will “resolutely safeguard” its sovereignty and security in the highly contested region.

According to the People’s Daily, the spokesperson said the “PLA expelled US guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur that trespassed into China’s territorial waters in Xisha Islands in the South China Sea.

“China will resolutely safeguard its sovereignty and security, regional peace and stability.”

Beijing accused the US of “provocation” after a guided-missile destroyer passed through the Taiwan Strait.

The US Navy released a statement explaining why the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, USS Curtis Wilbur, was complying with international law.

The statement read: “The ship’s transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.

“The United States military will continue to fly, sail, and operate anywhere international law allows.”

However, China denounced the US Navy for “disrupting” peace in the contested waters.

A spokesman for China’s Eastern Theatre Command said: “The US actions send the wrong signals to Taiwan independence forces, deliberately disrupting the regional situation and endangering peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”

Taiwan has faced a longstanding conflict with mainland China since a separate government was established on the island following the Chinese Civil War in 1949.

The nation remains an important ally of Western countries due to its close proximity to Communist China.

Fears have erupted over recent weeks that under Chinese President Xi Jinping, Beijing will use military force to reunify Taiwan with mainland China.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said last month: “I wish to emphasise that abiding by the One China principle is one of the things that is key to China-Australia relations.

“Taiwan is a part of Chinese territory which cannot be separated.

“The Taiwan issue is entirely China’s internal affair and is related to China’s core interests and we won’t accept any external forces meddling or interfering in this.”

Pressure is mounting on ‘Quad’ members – including Australia, Japan, India and the US – to counter against China’s dominance over Taiwan.

In April, Mr Wang accused Canberra of “meddling” in Beijing’s internal affairs and argued how there was “no room for any form of Taiwan independence”.

He said: said: “Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory, and the Taiwan issue is purely China’s internal affairs that involve China’s core interests and allows no foreign interference.