The British ship, HMS Queen Elizabeth, reportedly entered the South China Sea, prompting China to warn the United Kingdom that their actions could be viewed as 'hostile' to Beijing.
“The South China Sea is a vast ocean... we have no objection to people sailing around there but do not enter Chinese territorial waters within 12 nautical miles," Liu Xiaoming, China’s ambassador to the U.K., said in a statement.
China’s claim to the 12-mile limit around the islands - and the similarly uninhabited Spratly islands 200 miles further south - is not internationally recognized, but rather, a security demand from Beijing in these disputed waters.
According to the British authorities, their Navy is keen on asserting their freedom to navigate international waters, alongside their U.S. and Australian allies.
For China, this is a major threat because the British Navy plans to join a ship carrying the U.S. Marines and their F-35 jets in the region.
“If the U.S. and U.K. join hands in a challenge or violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China, that would be hostile action," Major General Su Guanghui, China’s Defence Attaché to the UK said last week.
In response to China's threats, the U.K. government released a statement: “The U.K. has enduring interests in the region and is committed to maintaining regional security. The presence of international navies in the South China Sea is normal and the Royal Navy is no exception to this," adding that “We remain committed to asserting rights of freedom of navigation at sea and in the air as provided for by international law.”