Chinese officials expressed tentative optimism about making a breakthrough in its trade dispute with the United States as the two sides resumed talks.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying deflected a question about whether the move would impact trade talks expected to get underway Tuesday in Beijing.
Asked if the ships' passage would impact trade talks, Hua said that "a series of United States tricks" showed what Washington was thinking.
"Thank you everybody, it's great to be here back in Beijing", Mnuchin told reporters at his hotel.
The so-called freedom-of-navigation patrols were reported earlier Monday by Reuters, which cited an unidentified USA official.
The guided-missile destroyers USS Spruance and USS Preble travelled within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands, which China claims ownership of.
The destroyers conducted the passage, illustrating the continuing USA military presence in the area, to which China routinely has objected.
"The key is whether the US and China can find common ground", said He Weiwen, a former commerce ministry official and now a senior fellow at the Center for China and Globalization, an independent research group.
Why the South China Sea Fuels U.S. After all, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthzer, along with US Secretary of the Treasury, Steven Mnuchin, are scheduled to meet with the Chinese vice premier in Beijing to try and finalize a deal before the newly scheduled tariffs arrive next month.
The alleged incursion by two US warships into the internationally disputed waters of the South China Sea was the second such move within five weeks.
The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative last week said China dispatched nearly 100 vessels to the Spratly chain in an effort to stop the Philippines from building on another feature known as Thitu Reef.
The USS Spruance was one of the warships which conducted the operation, which illustrates the continuing USA military presence in the area, to which China routinely objects. Other regional nations-such as the Philippines and Vietnam-lay claim to part of the waterway and the US routinely pushes back against China by sending ships to patrol the sea.
The US has also sailed warships through the Taiwan Strait, drawing Beijing's ire.
"At some point, I expect to meet with President Xi, who I have a lot of respect for a like a lot, and make the parts of the deal that the group is unable to make".