Beijing upset over British warship in South China Sea

HMS Albion reportedly passed by the Paracel Islands in recent days to challenge Beijing's

HMS Albion reportedly passed by the Paracel Islands in recent days to challenge Beijing's"excessive claims Credit PA

A British Royal Navy warship that sailed close to islands in the South China Sea claimed by China risked hampering any talks about a free trade agreement after Britain leaves the European Union, a major Chinese state-run newspaper said on Friday.

The Royal Navy said HMS Albion complied with global law and norms in her sail past and exercised her freedom of navigation rights in full. Deployed to Asia are the HMS Sutherland (F81), a Type 23 frigate; HMS Argyll (F231), a Type 23 Duke-class frigate and HMS Albion (L14), an Albion-class Landing Platform Dock.

The Paracels (called Xisha in Chinese and Hoàng Sa in Vietnamese) is controlled by China but is also claimed by Vietnam and the Republic of China (Taiwan).

"The Chinese side strongly urges the British side to immediately stop such kinds of provocative actions", China's Foreign Ministry told Reuters on Thursday.

Hua then went on to say China is firmly opposed to this manoeuvre and has expressed its strong dissatisfaction to the British.

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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.

However, some countries outside the region ignore this positive trend, dispatch planes and ships to stir up trouble in the region and disturb peace and security, he said, adding that the Chinese military will take all necessary measures to resolutely defend national security and sovereignty.

State-owned China Daily weighed in: "During her visit to Beijing early this year, British Prime Minister Theresa May pledged to intensify "the golden era" of Sino-UK relations".

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

A spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May said: "HMS Albion exercised the right to freedom of navigation in full compliance with worldwide law and norms".

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Since 2015, the US Navy has been conducting freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) in the area to ensure access to key shipping and air routes - and has urged key worldwide allies to do the same.

However, to get to its destination, the British military vessel with hundreds of personnel on board had to sail through the South China Sea.

"But China will be displeased as it suggests that US allies are responding to Washington's appeals".

Tension have risen over Beijing's South China Sea development where it has reclaimed reefs and islands and built runways, hangars and missile systems. Under the Trump administration, the freedom of navigation operations have increased in the region.

In April, warships from Australia - which like Britain is a close US ally - had what Canberra described as a close "encounter" with Chinese naval vessels in the contested sea.

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China claims more than 80% of the South China Sea based on a 1947 map showing vague dashes - the so-called ninedash line.

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