Chinese defence ministry spokesman Wu Qian said the situation in the South China Sea has "stabilised" because of "joint efforts" of China and neighbouring countries, but the U.S. operation threatened "peace and stability in the region".
This amounts to an explicit recognition that the Philippines is toeing China's line as ASEAN's chair.
Beijing also said it was "very displeased" with the warship's actions and urged the USA to respect to Chinese sovereignty and security.
Beijing also took advantage of its warming ties with the Philippines, ASEAN's current chair, which has explicitly soft-pedaled the South China Sea issue since President Rodrigo Duterte took office in June. The reports, he said, have to be scrutinized for accuracy in order to preserve the interest of the claimant nations, such as between Vietnam and China.
Beijing has reclaimed land in massive dredging operations, turning sandbars into islands equipped with airfields, ports and lighthouses. Tensions are mounting. This is a gradual process, and the problem is that the South China Sea is now becoming a geopolitical whirlpool sucking in more and more countries.
Zhang from Lingnan University said there could be more pressure applied by other rivals such as the US, Australia and Japan, which have previously voiced opposition to land reclamation and militarisation in the disputed waters, upsetting Beijing.
Cayetano explained that the final joint communiqué this year was a result of compromise as some ASEAN member-states wanted a "stronger" statement on the South China Sea while the others wanted a "weaker" one.
"Compared with the Philippines, which has territorial disputes with China over the Spratly Islands, Vietnam and China's dispute involves a wider region, in both the Spratly and the Paracel islands", said Zhang Baohui, professor of global affairs at Lingnan University in Hong Kong.
Interestingly, the PLAN Sanya naval base on Hainan Island - where a large chunk of China's submarine force, including nuclear submarines, are based - also falls under the SSF, which has 70,000 personnel in its ranks.
"However, some parties from outside continue to meddle in the region under the guise of free navigation", Geng said.
More significantly, the latest USA naval patrol comes days after a meeting of China and ASEAN foreign ministers in the Philippines had agreed a framework for a code of conduct in the South China Sea which is contested by multiple claimants including China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and the Philippines. "It's true in other places around the world, as well", Nauert said.
Cayetano made his claim when he justified on Tuesday, August 8, why the Philippines sought to exclude China's land reclamation activities from a joint statement by foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Interacting with the Indian media on the decks of the PLAN's frigate Yulin about Chinese growing presence at the Indian Ocean much to the disquiet of India, he said China's military is defensive in nature and not offensive.