British warship sails near South China Sea islands, angering Beijing

British warship sails near South China Sea islands, angering Beijing

British warship sails near South China Sea islands, angering Beijing

The British vessel was reportedly asserting its right to freedom of navigation in the region, when it sailed past an island in the Paracel chain which is occupied by Chinese forces.

The HMS Albion sailing into port in Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City earlier this week.

Beijing media also reported that People's Liberation Army seamen stationed on the islands scrambled a frigate and two helicopters to monitor and intercept the British warship and warned it to stay away from what it claimed to be China's sea border on August 31.

Around $3 trillion of shipborne trade passes through the hotly disputed area each year with China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei all staking a claim.

China's foreign ministry said: "The Chinese side strongly urges the British side to immediately stop taking such kinds of provocative actions".

China's foreign ministry said on Thursday that it had made solemn representations to the United Kingdom about the incident, vowing to go to any length to defend its sovereignty.

"I think the key point in relation to this is that HMS Albion was in full compliance with worldwide law", the spokesman said.

The U.S. Navy has also sent ships and planes to the disputed area to conduct Freedom of Navigation Operations.

China has repeatedly denounced what it views as interference from "countries outside the region" in the South China Sea, generally a message to the United States and its allies to stay out of the dispute.

The Paracels are controlled by China but also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.

The South China Sea is one of the most heavily disputed regions in the world, with Beijing claiming an enormous swathe of territory from their southern coast, nearly to the shore of Malaysia. Both Britain and the U.S. conduct such operations throughout the world.

It has recently been building extensive reclamations of reefs and islands, as well as constructing runways, hangers and missile systems on the islands.

The voyage was a "freedom of navigation operation" (FONOP) meant to challenge Beijing's "excessive claims" in the region.

Foreign aircraft and vessels in the region are routinely challenged by Chinese naval ships and monitoring stations on the fortified islands, sources have said previously.

Gavin Williamson, the Defence Secretary, said in June that deployment of the three ships was meant to send the "strongest of signals" on the importance of freedom of navigation.

"The Chinese Navy verified and identified the warship according to law and warned it to leave".

In a speech in Jakarta in August, Foreign Office Minister for Asia and the Pacific Mark Field said Britain was committed to an enduring security presence in Asia and urged countries to respect navigational freedom and global law in the South China Sea.

An global arbitration panel in the Hague ruled in 2016 that China's claims have no legal standing.

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