Britain should respect Chinese territory in South China Sea, Wang Yi tells Jeremy Hunt
British warship HMS Albion sails close to disputed Paracel Islands, provoking exchange between the two countries’ foreign ministers at UN meeting
China has asked Britain to respect its territorial integrity and not to risk the trust between the two nations after a British warship conducted a freedom-of-navigation exercise in the South China Sea.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi made the request during a meeting with British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Tuesday.
British warship HMS Albion sailed close to the disputed Paracel Islands – controlled by Beijing but also claimed by Taipei and Hanoi – on August 31, while en route to Vietnam from Japan.
Parts of the South China Sea are claimed by Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, as well as by China.
China’s neighbours, and the United States, have expressed concerns over Beijing’s build-up of military facilities on islands in the disputed waters, and have said efforts should be made to ensure freedom of navigation in the area.
The Chinese foreign ministry said Wang had told Hunt about China’s stance regarding the South China Sea.
“I hope [Britain] can respect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and do more to contribute to bilateral ties ... rather than things that disturb mutual trust,” Wang was quoted as saying.
Hunt said Britain would not take sides in territorial disputes in the region, and was willing to resolve disagreements through communication with China, according to China’s foreign ministry.
Under President Donald Trump, the US has increased its freedom-of-navigation exercises in the waterway, sending warships close to China-controlled islands. It has also called on other nations to challenge Beijing’s expansion and territorial claims in the disputed region.
Britain and France announced in June that they would send warships to Asia to take part in the freedom-of-navigation exercises.
China’s ambassador to Britain, Liu Xiaoming, claimed last week that big countries from outside the region were abusing their freedom-of-navigation rights and causing trouble in the South China Sea.
Other countries have also conducted military operations in the waters. This month Japan sent an attack submarine and three warships to take part in war games there, before visiting Vietnam, which has competing territorial claims with China.