The United States on Tuesday sailed its warship close to the Fiery Cross Reef in the South China Sea as a part of its freedom of navigation operation challenging Beijing's claim to the aritifical islands in the maritime region, according to reports.

Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS William P Lawrence sailed within 12 nautical miles of Fiery Cross Reef, where China has constructed a 3,000-metre runway, Reuters reported.

"This operation challenged attempts by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam to restrict navigation rights around the features they claim, specifically that these three claimants purport to require prior permission or notification of transits through the territorial sea, contrary to international law," the Financial Times quoted U.S. Defence Department spokesperson Bill Urban as saying.

"This operation demonstrates, as President Obama has stated, that the United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows," he said.

Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam also claim territorial rights in the reef, a feature in the disputed Spratly Island. Beijing has, on the other hand, increased activities on the islands in the South China sea.

"These excessive maritime claims are inconsistent with international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention in that they purport to restrict the navigation rights that the United States and all states are entitled to exercise," Reuters quoted Urban as saying in a statement.

This was the third freedom of navigation operation in the last one year that has attracted anger from China. The operation comes ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month.

Washington increased military exercises in the South China Sea when Beijing stepped up construction works in the disputed artificial islands. It also landed a military aircraft last month and is planning to build a maritime nuclear power platforms.