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The Chinese military confronted a British warship in South China Sea

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Chinese Navy
China’s
Harbin (112) guided missile destroyer, left, and DDG-139 Ningbo
Sovremenny class Type-956EM destroyer, right, take part in a
week-long exercise


Uncredited/AP


  • The Royal Navy amphibious assault ship HMS Albion
    recently challenged China’s excessive claims to the contested
    South China Sea, reportedly triggering a confrontation with the
    Chinese military.
  • China called the incident a provocation and warned that
    it would “take all necessary measures to defend its sovereignty
    and security.”
  • The Royal Navy argues it was exercising its “rights for
    freedom of navigation in full compliance with international
    law.”

Following in the wake of the US Navy, a British warship recently
challenged China’s excessive claims to the disputed South China
Sea, provoking a confrontation with the Chinese military and
triggering outrage in Beijing.

The warship HMS Albion, an amphibious assault ship carrying a
contingent of Royal Marines and one of three Royal Navy surface
ships deployed to Asian waters this year, was confronted by the
Chinese navy — a frigate and two Chinese helicopters — when it
sailed close to Chinese-occupied territories in the Paracel
Islands in late August, Reuters
reports
The Chinese navy instructed the British
vessel to leave the area, and the situation did not escalate
further.

“HMS Albion exercised her rights for freedom of navigation
in full compliance with international law and norms,” a spokesman
for the British Royal Navy said in response.

Beijing strongly criticized the UK’s actions Thursday, calling
the recent incident a provocation.

The relevant actions by the British ship violated Chinese
law and relevant international law and infringed on China’s
sovereignty,” the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in an
official statement. “China strongly opposes this and has lodged
stern representations with the British side to express strong
dissatisfaction.”

“China strongly urges the British side to immediately stop
such provocative actions, to avoid harming the broader picture of
bilateral relations and regional peace and stability,” the
ministry added. “China will continue to take all necessary
measures to defend its sovereignty and security.”

The US military conducts regular “freedom of navigation”
operations in the contested South China Sea, often sending both
warships and bombers past contested territories in the area, and
Washington has been pressing allies and international partners to
push back on Chinese efforts to dominate the strategic
waterway.

London appears to be answering Washington’s call, and China
may be particularly upset because it could encourage other states
to do the same.

Last week, the US Navy and the Japanese Maritime
Self-Defense Force
conducted
joint military exercises in the South China Sea,
putting on a show of force with aircraft carriers and other
weapons systems in China’s backyard.

Gavin Williamson, the British defense
secretary, stressed
in June that the deployment of the HMS Albion and other vessels
to the region sends the “strongest of signals” on the importance
of freedom of navigation. “We believe that countries should play
by the rules,” he said in a clear message to China the day after
US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis slammed China for
“intimidation and coercion” in the South China Sea.

Increased pressure by the US and Britain has yet to curb
Beijing’s ambitions in the waterway, through which trillions of
dollars in trade pass annually.

Over the past year, China has significantly increased its
military presence in the region by deploying jamming technology,
anti-ship cruise missiles, and surface-to-air missiles at its
outposts in the South China Sea. Chinese bombers have also become
much more active in the area.

The Chinese military, arguing that it is defending Chinese
territory, regularly
threatens
foreign ships and aircraft that get too close,
and confrontations
are not uncommon. Neither the US Navy nor other countries in the
flashpoint region have allowed China’s threats and warnings to
affect their operations.

The Chinese Ministry of National Defense
said
Thursday it will continue to dispatch ships and planes
to confront “countries outside the region” that “continue to send
warships to the South China Sea to stir up trouble.”

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