The destroyer USS William P. Lawrence sails in the Philippine Sea, March 30, 2016. (Photo by AFP)

China says frequent US Navy patrols in the South China Sea are forcing Beijing to boost its defense capabilities in the area amid rising tensions in the disputed waters.

The Chinese Defense Ministry said in a Wednesday statement that it deployed two navy fighter jets, one early warning aircraft, and three ships to warn off the destroyer USS William P. Lawrence.

“The provocative actions by American military ships and planes lay bare the US designs to seek gain by creating chaos in the region and again testify to the total correctness and utter necessity of China’s construction of defensive facilities on relevant islands,” the statement said.

“China will increase the scope of sea and air patrols based on need, boost all categories of military capacity building, resolutely defend national sovereignty and security, and resolutely safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea,” it added.

The American warship was traveling within 12 nautical miles of Fiery Cross Reef on the South China Sea’s Spratly Islands on Tuesday.

It was the third time in less than a year that Washington had sent its warships to the sea in a move repeatedly condemned by China as “the real militarization” of the region.

US Defense Department spokesman Bill Urban said the voyage was made to “challenge excessive maritime claims of some claimants in the South China Sea,” in a less-than-tacit reference to China.

A Chinese fishing vessel sails by Fiery Cross Reef, background, on the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. (File photo by AFP)

The South China Sea has become a source of tension between China, the US, and some other regional countries, who are seeking control of trade routes and mineral deposits there.

China has on different occasions asserted its sovereignty over the sea, parts of which are also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Washington has accused Beijing of attempting to take advantage of the situation and gradually asserting control over the region.

China, however, rejects the allegations and says the US is interfering in regional affairs, deliberately stirring tensions in the South China Sea.