United States negotiators met with their Chinese counterparts in Beijing on Monday for a new round of high-stakes trade talks, hoping to reach a deal before the March 1 deadline set by Donald Trump as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned of a possible global economic "storm".
China's foreign ministry expressed anger on Monday after the warships sailed in the disputed South China Sea.
China and the USA have repeatedly traded barbs in the past over what Washington says is Beijing's militarisation of the South China Sea by building military installations on artificial islands and reefs. The archipelago lies off the coasts of the Philippines, Malaysia, and southern Vietnam.
The USS McCampbell destroyer conducted a "freedom of navigation" operation within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Islands five weeks ago to "challenge excessive maritime claims", according to the Pacific Fleet, which Beijing also protested.
Speaking at a meeting of the Atlantic Council in Washington last week, Admiral John Richardson, chief of US Naval Operation, called for firmer rules governing naval encounters in disputed waters such as the South China Sea.
An unnamed U.S. official told Reuters on Monday that the two destroyers conducted a freedom of navigation exercise - the second by the United States in the region this year - within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef, where Beijing has purportedly built military facilities.
China claims almost all of the South China Sea, though Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam all claim parts of it. The deployment is seen as the latest attempt by Washington to stand up to what it believes are attempts by Beijing to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters, where Chinese, Japanese and other Southeast Asian navies operate. The US labelled the Chinese warship's actions unsafe and unprofessional, while Beijing said the US was threatening the safety and sovereignty of China. The news comes on the day that a US trade delegation arrived in Beijing for another round of talks in the ongoing trade conflict between USA and China.
The two countries have traded barbs over what USA said was Beijing's military installation building on artificial islands and reefs.
China claims a large part of the South China Sea, and has build artificial islands and air bases there, prompting concern around the region and in Washington.