Chinese naval commander Adm. Wu Shengli warned his American counterpart that a minor incident involving a U.S. warship in the South China Sea could spark war if the United States did not stop its “dangerous, provocative acts” in the contested waterway. Shengli made the menacing remarks to the U.S. chief of naval operations, Adm. John Richardson, during a video teleconference Thursday, two days after the USS Lassen guided-missile destroyer sailed through territorial limits Beijing asserts around man-made islands, according to Reuters.

The American warship sailed Tuesday within 12 nautical miles of one of China’s artificial islands in the disputed Spratly archipelago, signaling that the U.S. does not respect Beijing’s territorial claims over the strategically vital waters. Pentagon officials have said the United States regularly carries out “freedom-of-navigation” operations around the world to test excessive maritime claims and “protect the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea and airspace guaranteed to all nations under international law.” But China has scolded the U.S. over the patrol, which marked the most significant challenge yet that Washington has made to Beijing’s territorial assertions in the area.

"If the United States continues with these kinds of dangerous, provocative acts, there could well be a seriously pressing situation between frontline forces from both sides on the sea and in the air, or even a minor incident that sparks war," a statement paraphrased Wu as saying Thursday. "(I) hope the U.S. side cherishes the good situation between the Chinese and U.S. navies -- that has not come easily -- and avoids these kinds of incidents from happening again.”

Both naval chiefs agreed to maintain dialogue and stick to protocols established under the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES) to avoid clashes in the Asia-Pacific region.

"They agreed that it's very important that both sides continue to use the protocols under the CUES agreement when they're operating close to keep the chances for misunderstanding and any kind of provocation from occurring," a U.S. official told Reuters Thursday, adding that planned port visits by U.S. and Chinese ships as well as scheduled visits to China by senior U.S. Navy officers were still on track.

Since building and expanding several islands in the region, China maintains that nearly the entire sea is its maritime territory,  despite overlapping assertions by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Meanwhile, the United States considers the area “international waters,” according to Quartz.