HMS Albion was challenged by a Chinese frigate and two helicopters during freedom of navigation exercise.
It is understood that China dispatched the frigate and two helicopters to challenge HMS Albion as it sailed through the disputed sea. Local media report that both sides remained calm during the encounter and the Royal Navy assault ship continued on course despite protests from China.
HMS Albion was understood to be conducting a freedom of navigation maneuver, Reuters reported, citing two people familiar with the matter. The ship was on its way to Ho Chi Minh City, where it docked on Monday following a deployment in and around Japan, it said. The Paracel island chain is also claimed by Vietnam, which in May asked China to end bomber aircraft drills in the area, calling it a violation of its own sovereignty.
A spokesman for the Royal Navy said:
“HMS Albion exercised her rights for freedom of navigation in full compliance with international law and norms.”
China’s foreign ministry said in a statement sent to Reuters:
“The relevant actions by the British ship violated Chinese law and relevant international law, and infringed on China’s sovereignty. 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. China will continue to take all necessary measures to defend its sovereignty and security”.
Albion is one of three British warships sent to the region to signify the UK doesn’t recognise the hotly disputed and according to some, excessive, Chinese claims in the region.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson had earlier said that the warships will outline the “critical” importance of defending freedom-of-navigation in the region during a speech in Singapore.
“The reason that they are here and the reason that we are visiting is to send the strongest of signals,” he said, addressing Royal Navy sailors. We believe that countries should play by the rules.
This is even more important at a time when storm clouds are gathering and regional fears are rising, when more nations have nuclear and chemical weapons, not to mention the infringement of regional access, freedoms and security.”