Alleged on-going reclamation by China on Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands chain in the South China Sea, pictured on May 11, 2015
Chinese media denounced the US Wednesday after Washington sent a warship into disputed South China Sea waters and vowed to do so again, while netizens filled the Internet with angry diatribes, demanding a far stronger reaction from Beijing.
The disputed waters have become the stage for a burgeoning tussle between the world's two largest economic and military powers as they struggle for regional dominance.
In the latest act, the US sent its destroyer the USS Lassen within 12 nautical miles of small artificial islands in the South China Sea that Beijing recently built on reefs despite competing claims from its neighbours, including Washington's ally Manila.
The US Navy will send more warships, a US official said late Tuesday, telling AFP: "We will do it again. We sail in international waters at a time and place of our choosing."
In the run-up to Tuesday's operation, Beijing repeatedly warned that it would take firm action against any country that violated its territorial sovereignty.
But when the long-awaited patrol finally arrived, Beijing only tracked and warned away the vessel, without intervening physically.
Falling back on a tried-and-tested formula, it summoned the US ambassador to protest, denounced Washington's actions, and made vague threats that it would "resolutely respond".
Commentary in Chinese state media was relatively restrained, calling for China to keep a cool head in the face of American provocations.
Even the Global Times, known for its nationalistic rhetoric, issued a call for restraint, emphasising the need for China to show moral superiority in the face of what it described as Washington's bullying.
"The Pentagon is obviously provoking China," it said in an editorial Wednesday.
"If we feel disgraced and utter some furious words, it will only make the US achieve its goal of irritating us."
But Chinese netizens demanded a stronger response from the authorities, which portray themselves as a major global power and have at their command the world's largest military, an increasing point of pride.
Beijing has been ramping up defence spending for years as it works to transform its once corrupt and dysfunctional military into a well-oiled machine with an increasingly powerful navy capable of operating far into the Pacific.
The Americans "are at our doorstep. Denouncing them again is useless," one commentator said, reflecting the general mood of thousands of responses on social media site Sina Weibo.
A September military parade in Beijing celebrating the 70th anniversary of the defeat of Japan featured a procession of military hardware, including missiles thought to be capable of targeting American warships.
Such displays have heightened popular Chinese expectations, and social media were filled with demands for decisive action.
"Can China only flap its lips?" one comment asked, before offering a more decisive reaction: "Destroy the American warships that came."