Beijing on Thursday protested against Britain’s move to send a warship close to islands it claims in the South China Sea, calling it a “provocative action” that “infringed on China’s sovereignty”.
China was responding to a report that the British Royal Navy sent the HMS Albion – a 22,000-tonne amphibious warship carrying a contingent of Royal Marines – on a freedom of navigation operation last month, passing near the disputed Paracel Islands.
The group of more than 30 islands, known in Chinese as Xisha, is currently controlled by China but also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.
The Albion was on its way to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, where it docked on Monday following a deployment in and around Japan.
Beijing dispatched a frigate and two helicopters to challenge the British vessel, but both sides remained calm during the encounter, Reuters reported on Thursday, quoting an anonymous source.
Another source told Reuters that the Albion did not enter the territorial seas – within 12 nautical miles – around any features in the hotly contested region but sailed close enough to show that Britain does not recognise Beijing’s claims to the Paracels.
China’s foreign ministry expressed “strong dissatisfaction” over the move.
“The relevant actions by the British ship violated Chinese law and relevant international law, and infringed on China’s sovereignty,” ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.
“China resolutely opposes this and has lodged stern representations with the British side to express strong dissatisfaction,” Hua said, adding that Beijing urged Britain to avoid such provocative actions.
Defence ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said the Chinese military sent ships and planes to identify and warn off the British vessel, and that China would continue to take all necessary measures to defend its sovereignty and national security.
“In the recent period, through the joint efforts of China and Asean countries, the situation in the South China Sea has been stabilised and maintains a positive momentum,” Ren said, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
“But some countries outside this region choose to ignore it and continue to send warships to the South China Sea to stir up trouble,” he said. “This threatens the peace and security in the region, and goes against the collective will and efforts of the countries in this region.”
China’s claims in the resource-rich waterway – through which some US$3 trillion of shipborne trade passes each year – are contested by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. Britain does not have any territorial claims in the area.
Both Britain and the United States say they conduct freedom of navigation operations throughout the world, including in areas claimed by allies. The operations have so far not persuaded Beijing to curtail its South China Sea activities, which have included extensive reclamation of reefs and islands and the construction of runways, hangars and missile systems.
Additional reporting by Reuters
This article China protests after British warship sails close to disputed Paracel Islands first appeared on South China Morning Post