China angered after British Navy warship sails near S China Sea island

Paracel Islands North Reef

North Reef in Paracel Islands

A British warship, HMS Albion, angered Beijing after it sailed through waters claimed by China in late August.

One of the sources said Beijing dispatched a frigate and two helicopters to challenge the British vessel, but both sides remained calm during the encounter.

It is at least the second time this year that the Royal Navy has performed sail-bys close to - but not within - the 12-nautical- mile territorial zone China claims around the features it occupies in the waters.

China's claims in the South China Sea, which sees some $3 trillion (£2.3 trillion) of trade every year, are also contested by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

"The Chinese Navy legally verified the ship and warned it to leave", Hua told a news briefing Thursday.

"The action taken by the British ship violated Chinese law and relevant global law, and infringed on China's sovereignty", and China strongly protests such moves and has lodged solemn representations, she added.

Hua said the United Kingdom ship's passage past the Paracels had "violated China's territorial sovereignty", adding that China had expressed its "strong dissatisfaction" to London.

"China strongly urges Britain to stop such provocations immediately so as not to damage the overall situation of bilateral relations and regional peace and stability".

China and Britain, which have talked of a "golden era" of relations, agreed last month to look at the possibility of reaching a "top notch" post-Brexit free trade deal that promises an important political win for the conservative government.

UK Secretary of State for Defense Gavin Williamson said the Royal Navy has assigned three warships to the Asia-Pacific to send the "strongest of signals" on the importance of freedom of navigation and to keep up maximum pressure on North Korea.

While the US Navy has conducted freedom of navigation operations in the area, the British challenge comes after the US said it would like to see more global participation in such actions.

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.

"We have a strong relationship with China".

Gavin Williamson, the Defence Secretary, said in June that deployment of the three ships was meant to send the "strongest of signals" on the importance of freedom of navigation. Neither the US Navy nor other countries in the flashpoint region have allowed China's threats and warnings to affect their operations.

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

London has sided with Washington in snubbing Beijing's excessive claims around the Paracels and other parts of the vast expanses of the South China Sea.

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