British Navy Lays Down High Seas Challenge to China Near Disputed Paracel Islands

A Royal Navy warship has sailed close to Chinese claimed islands in the South China Sea in a reported challenge to Beijing's "excessive claims" in the region. HMS Albion passed by the Paracel Islands en-route to Vietnam asserting "freedom of navigation rights" according to sources.

The 22,000-ton warship packed with Royal Marines docked in Hanoi on Monday following deployment in and around Japan. One source told the Chinese sent a frigate and two helicopters to challenge the Albion but both sides remained calm, another said it did not enter the territorial seas around any features in the disputed region.

They said the move was to demonstrate that Britain did not recognise China's excessive claims to Paracel Island which are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan. In a statement, a Royal Navy spokesperson said: "HMS Albion exercised her rights of freedom of navigation in full compliance with international law and norms."

In June, the UK Defence Secretary announced HMS Albion would be one of three warships being deployed to the area "to send the strongest of signals" to countries that "don't play by the rules". During the speech in Singapore, Gavin Williamson said the warships outlined the "critical" importance of defending freedom of navigation in the region. It followed warnings to China by US Secretary of Defence, James Mattis, of "consequences" if it continued to militarise the South China Sea.

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