China has warned the UK not to do a “dirty job” for the US ahead of the first mission of the Royal Navy’s biggest and most advanced warship.
HMS Queen Elizabeth will carry US military aircraft to hotly-contested islands currently controlled by China, the nation’s claim is not recognised internationally.
The Freedom of Navigation mission in the Spratly Islands, scheduled to take place in 2021, has been dubbed “hostile action” by Beijing, which hinted it might respond.
Speaking in London, China’s Ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, said Britain “should not do this dirty job for somebody else”.
He added: “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 12 nautical miles.
“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.”
China has been building artificial islands off the shores of the Spratly Islands in a bid to cement its control over the territory, which is also claimed by Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
It is alleged that China has built military equipment designed to jam radar on the islands.
The US Pacific Fleet has described previous Freedom of Navigation operations as a bid “to challenge excessive maritime claims”.
A British Navy spokesman described the exercise as “normal”.
“The presence of international navies in the South China Sea is normal and the Royal Navy is no exception to this,” he told Sky News.
“We remain committed to asserting rights of freedom of navigation at sea and in the air as provided for by international law.”
But China insists it is sovereign over the land.
“If the US and UK join hands in a challenge or violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China, that would be hostile action,” Major General Su Guanghui, China’s Defence Attaché to the UK, said.