10 Downing Street has distanced itself from UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson's remarks that the Royal Navy's new aircraft carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, will be deployed to disputed waters in the Pacific where China is embroiled in an ongoing dispute over navigation rights.
"In relation to China, I think we have set out areas where we have concerns – such as around cyber-intrusions against the UK and our allies. But it is also a country with which we have a strong and constructive relationship", Prime Minister Theresa May's spokesman said.
He added that the aircraft carrier would not be deployed until 2021 and that it is PM May who will take the final decision on the vessel's route.
His remarks came after Williamson said during his speech at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London on Monday that the HMS Queen Elizabeth would be deployed to the Pacific Region in a show of "hard power".
He pointed out China's drive to develop "its modern capability and commercial power", claiming that Beijing is "resurgent" in rebuilding its armed forces.
According to Williamson, the UK and its Western allies will have to "be ready to show the high price of aggressive behaviour" and be "ready to strengthen our resilience".
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi voiced hope that "Britain will truly implement its position of not taking sides in the South China Sea issue, earnestly respect China's sovereignty and territorial integrity and not do anything to disturb the mutual trust between the two countries".
Beijing currently controls the vast majority of islands, reefs and shoals in the South China Sea, which are also claimed by a number of other nations in the region, including the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan and Brunei.