Allies have rallied behind the US for its recent navigation into international waters claimed by China. The sail-by raises tensions between the two sides, with China promising to "resolutely respond" to provocation.
The US guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen navigated on Monday through an area of the South China Sea traditionally known as international waters but claimed by the Chinese government.
China quickly denounced the sail-by, but its regional rivals rose in support of the US action.
The Philippines hailed the sail-by as a restoration to the area's "balance of power" and a correction to China's infringement of international waters. President Benigno Aquino III said the move was "meant precisely to say that there are norms as to what freedom of navigation entails."
Along with Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan, the Philippines also has claims to the South China Sea, one of the busiest trade routes in the world.
In addition Australia expressed strong support for the US action. "Australia continues to cooperate closely with the United States and other regional partners on maritime security," Defense Minister Maris Payne announced after the exercise.
About 60% of Australia's exports pass through the South China Sea.
On Tuesday, the Chinese government announced that it had issued a warning to the US government prior to the ship's "illegal" entrance into the area and followed the ship as it sailed through.
"China will resolutely respond to any country's deliberate provocations," a Foreign Ministry statement said.
The area is within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef in the Spratly archipelago, an area where China is alleged to be building artificial islands capable of supporting military facilities.
A US defense official called the passage the first foray in freedom-of-navigation exercises challenging China's territorial claims, according to Reuters.
The US government has recently labeled Beijing's push for control of the area an "excessive claim" of sovereignty. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter recently said that the US "will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows…and the South China Sea is not and will not be an exception."
jtm/kms (dpa, Reuters)