CHINA has warned Britain that sailing warships through the disputed South China Sea will be viewed as a “hostile action”.
The Royal Navy is reported to be considering the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth close to the contested Spratly Islands.
China’s claim that large parts of the South China Sea are part of its territorial waters is hotly disputed and several countries sail warships through the area to assert rights of passage.
The UK is keen to join the United States and Australia and is reported to be considering the navy’s new 65,000 ton aircraft carrier, with US F-35 warplanes on-board, to the Spratly Islands.
But Chinese defence attache to the UK used a meeting of the London Defence Correspondents’ Association in London to send a warning to the UK, the Telegraph reports.
“If the US and UK join hands in a challenge or violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China, that would be hostile action,” said Major General Su Guanghui.
Speaking at the same event, China’s ambassador to the UK Liu Xiaoming rejected the argument that the Royal Navy would be upholding international law.
“The South China Sea is a vast ocean, it is three million square kilometres wide, we have no objection to people sailing around there but do not enter Chinese territorial waters within twelve nautical miles,” he said.
“If you don’t do that, there shouldn’t be a problem. The South China Sea is wide enough to have free navigation of shipping.”
What is the dispute in the South China Sea about?
China lays claim to vast swathes of ocean and many islands – but some parts are also claimed by the likes of Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia and Taiwan.
The dispute centres around legal claims to ocean areas and two island chains, the Paracels and the Spratlys, which are thought to be abundant in natural resources.
Every year some £3.8 trillion of trade passes through the dispute area and the United States has been joined by Australia, the UK and France in sailing warships through it to assert freedom of navigation
China has engaged in a massive military build-up in the area, creating a network of artificial islands, which it uses to assert its territorial claim.
It claims that these are part of its national coastline but the United States and the Philippines say that doesn’t apply to artificial islands.
China’s claim to a 12 mile territorial limit around the islands is not internationally recognised.
Warships from the United States and China have been engaged in tense stand-offs which have threatened to escalate into conflict in the disputed seas.
In January, China reacted with fury after the US sent a missile destroyer through the disputed waters in a direct challenge to Beijing.
China responded by scrambling warships and aircraft to intercept the ship, which sailed within a dozen miles of the increasingly-militarised Paracel Island chain.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “The UK has enduring interests in the region and is committed to maintaining regional security.
“The presence of international navies in the South China Sea is normal and the Royal Navy is no exception to this.
“We remain committed to asserting rights of freedom of navigation at sea and in the air as provided for by international law.”
Last year China accused Britain of “provocation” after a 22,000-tonne Royal Navy warship sailed past another set of disputed islands in the South China Sea.
Heavily armed HMS Albion sparked outrage in Beijing when it passed the disputed Paracel Islands on its way to Vietnam.
China’s Foreign Ministry accused the warship of entering Chinese territorial waters without permission – and accused Britain of infringing on “China’s sovereignty”.
Aerial photos released in February 2018 s reveal how China has turned the Spratly Islands disputed into fortresses bristling with military hardware.
One island – which a UN court ruled belongs to the Philippines – now has a two-mile runway, a port and multistorey concrete barracks.
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