"An unsafe and unprofessional maneuver."

Defense officials have reported "unsafe" interactions between Chinese and American warships on Sunday near a disputed territory in the South China Sea.

The two destroyers came dangerously close to each other, but successfully avoided contact, CNN ​reported Monday.

The interaction occurred near the Spratly Islands, an area contested for ownership by several South-East Asian countries, including China, Taiwan, and the Philippines.

According to the official who spoke to CNN, it is not uncommon for Chinese vessels to "shadow" American warships due to regional concerns, but that it is rare for a Chinese ship to come as close as it did. 

The Chinese "Luyang destroyer approached USS Decatur in an unsafe and unprofessional maneuver in the vicinity of Gaven Reef in the South China Sea," the official said.

The American vessel had been sailing through the disputed area as part of a "freedom of navigation operation," in which warships assert the right of free travel in international waters -- especially in locally-contentious areas. 

A defense official ​told The Hill on Sunday that these operations are "routine and regular."

This happened as President Donald Trump showed a ​willingness to ramp up tensions with China by slapping ​additional tariffs on Chinese imports. China's bid to become the world's leading superpower -- and Trump's willingness to challenge it -- has led security experts to ​speculate whether the two countries at the brink of a new cold war, in which each will try to cement its sphere of influence.

More alarmist commentators and experts have ​warned that if China will begin to feel real pressure from American tariffs, it may consider resorting to military solutions.

Last week, two US bombers ​flew over other contested territories in the South East China Sea, an action which the Chinese government called "provocative." 

But some experts ​argue that current tensions are merely the inevitable process of the two superpowers -- one entrenched, the other ascending -- negotiating their respective roles in a new world order. Assuming that neither is eager for actual war, it may be just a matter of time before a balance is struck and tensions are alleviated.