The HMS Albion, the British Royal Navy amphibious flagship, passed the Paracel Islands in recent days, the sources told Reuters. The warship was on its way to Ho Chi Minh City, where it docked on Monday, following the deployment in and around Japan.
According to Reuters’ sources, China dispatched a frigate and two helicopters to challenge the vessel yet both sides did not interfere with each other as the warship didn’t enter the territorial waters. The sources said that the action by Albion was meant to demonstrate that Britain does not recognize excessive maritime claims around the Paracel Islands.
“The relevant actions by the British ship violated Chinese law and relevant international law and infringed on China’s sovereignty. China strongly opposes this and has lodged stern representations with the British side to express strong dissatisfaction,” the ministry added, saying that China urges the British side to “immediately stop such provocative actions.”
The British Navy has previously sailed close to the disputed Spratly Islands, further south in the South China Sea and not far from Paracel Islands, several times in recent years but not within the 12 nautical mile limit, regional diplomatic sources have said.
A spokesman for the Royal Navy said that “HMS Albion exercised her rights for freedom of navigation in full compliance with international law and norms.”
China’s claims in the South China Sea, through which about $3 trillion of ship-borne trade passes yearly, are contested by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Britain does not have any territorial claims in the area. Beijing says that they are claiming their own territories back and need the islands for necessary civil and self-defense purposes.