British warship sails near South China Sea islands, angering Beijing

Sep 10, 2018, 03:29
British warship sails near South China Sea islands, angering Beijing

The incident saw a British warship, HMS Albion, sail through waters claimed by China close to Chinese-occupied territories in the Paracel Islands in late August.

HMS Albion passed by the Paracel Islands en-route to Vietnam asserting "freedom of navigation rights" according to Reuters' sources. The ship was on its way to Ho Chi Minh City, where it docked on Monday following a deployment in and around Japan, it said.

According to Hua, the vessel "entered China's territorial sea without the Chinese government's approval" and that "the Chinese navy identified and verified the British warship in accordance with the law and warned and expelled it".

Twelve nautical miles (22km) is an internationally recognized territorial limit.

China's the Foreign Ministry alleges Albion entered Chinese territorial waters around the Paracel Islands without permission.

In a statement, a Royal Navy spokesperson said: "HMS Albion exercised her rights of freedom of navigation in full compliance with global law and norms". "China strongly opposes this and has lodged stern representations with the British to express strong dissatisfaction".

China urged the United Kingdom to immediately stop such provocations to avoid harming overall bilateral relations as well as regional peace and stability, she added.

Hua said at her briefing that China would continue to adopt "necessary measures" to uphold its sovereignty and national security.

This, it said, could end up harming relations between London and Beijing and threaten any possible trade deal.

Britain has made clear that it wishes to strike numerous trade deals with nations around the world after Brexit.

The China Daily said Britain was trying to "curry favor" with the United States, which has been pushing for more global participation in freedom of navigation operations in the strategic waterway.

Freedom of navigation operations, also known as FONOPs have been practiced more and more frequently by USA naval forces in the South China Seas, and the US has called for more global support in recent months to stand up to Beijing's militarization of the region.

During the speech in Singapore, Gavin Williamson said the warships outlined the "critical" importance of defending freedom of navigation in the region.

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. Neither the US Navy nor other countries in the flashpoint region have allowed China's threats and warnings to affect their operations.

The HMS Albion is one of the UK Navy's two amphibious assault ships, with capacity for more than 400 sailors.

In April, warships from Australia had a close "encounter" with the Chinese navy in the contested sea.

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

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