China warns United Kingdom ties at risk after warship mission

Aaron Brown
September 10, 2018

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".

Reuters reports that a British Royal Navy vessel, "the HMS Albion, a 22,000-tonne amphibious warfare ship carrying a contingent of Royal Marines, passed by the Paracel Islands in recent days".

Gavin Williamson, the British defense secretary, stressed in June that the deployment of the HMS Albion and other vessels to the region sends the "strongest of signals" on the importance of freedom of navigation.

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.

The Paracel Islands is a group of islands, reefs, banks and other maritime features in the South China Sea.

The group of more than 30 islands, known in Chinese as Xisha, is now controlled by China but also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.

Satellite view of one part of the Paracel Islands in the disputed South China Sea.

"Britain's actions were wrong", said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying. "China will continue to take all necessary measures to defend its sovereignty and security".

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Beijing has confirmed the encounter, claiming that the British warship "violated" its territorial waters on August 31.

Britain has been courting China for a post-Brexit free trade deal, and both countries like to describe how they have a "golden era" in ties.

The Royal Navy said: "HMS Albion exercised her rights for freedom of navigation in full compliance with global laws and norms".

Since 2015, the US Navy has been conducting freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) in the area to ensure access to key shipping and air routes - and has urged key global allies to do the same.

China claims more than 80% of the South China Sea based on a 1947 map showing vague dashes - the so-called ninedash line.

Over the past year, China has significantly increased its military presence in the region by deploying jamming technology, anti-ship cruise missiles, and surface-to-air missiles at its outposts in the South China Sea.

As reported by Reuters, China's state-run media outlets are taking warning shots at the United Kingdom regarding trade talks after a British warship made a sail-by in contested waters in the South China Sea.

The voyage was a "freedom of navigation operation" (FONOP) meant to challenge Beijing's "excessive claims" in the region. Beijing has repeatedly rejected the ruling and earlier refused to participate in the case brought by the Philippines.

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