China lashes out over "illegal" U.S. warship sail-by

BEIJING -- China has reacted with predictable angry rhetoric to the U.S. Navy sailing one of its ships within 12 nautical miles of China's new artificial islands in the South China Sea.

The 12-mile distance is significant because it's within the boundary of what China considers its sovereign territory.

According to the U.S., however, the ship sailed in international waters. CBS News correspondent Seth Doane says China insists it's their sovereignty territory, and on Tuesday the Foreign Ministry in Beijing said the U.S. ship was warned, and followed.

The U.S. used a guided-missile destroyer, the USS Lassen, to make its point -- or more specifically, the route taken by the warship. It sailed close to man-made islands China has been building in territory also claimed by Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam.

Recent satellite photos show the expansion of "Subi reef," which the U.S. Navy ship passed Tuesday. It's believed China has built an airstrip there capable of handling military aircraft.

Doane and his CBS News team traveled to the South China Sea this summer and hired a small boat to try and get a first-hand look at China's island expansion.

As their boat drew closer to Subi reef, a warning signal appeared in the distance; beacon lights shone by the Chinese. The small boat's captain started to get nervous as several more warning signals were flashed and decided it was time for him and his CBS News passengers to get out of there. The team took what pictures they could through the haze, and turned back to safer shores.

At Tuesday's Ministry of Foreign Affairs briefing, China called the U.S. patrol "illegal" and "provocative."

"If we're forced to respond," said Ministry spokesman Lu Kang, "we will decide when and how to respond in our own way."

Asked by Doane whether that meant a possible military response, Lu said he would "not answer a hypothetical question."

The U.S. is expected to carry out more of the freedom of navigation patrols in what it considers international waters -- not only patrolling near Chinese outposts, but ones claimed by other countries, too.