China withdrew an invitation to a French warship to take part in Tuesday’s naval parade off the port city of Qingdao after the vessel entered the Taiwan Strait, a source said. Chinese defence ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said on Thursday that China lodged a protest with France after a warship illegally entered its waters while passing through the strait earlier this month. Ren said warships were sent to escort the French vessel away from Chinese waters. The frigate Vendémiaire was reported to have sailed through the international waterway on April 6. It was expected to join Tuesday’s celebration to mark the 70th anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy, but a military delegation took its place. The French defence ministry said it was “in close contact with the Chinese authorities” about the incident. “The navy passes on average once a year in the Taiwan Strait without incident or reaction,” it said. “France reaffirms its attachment to the freedom of navigation in accordance with the law of the sea.” Taipei ‘well aware’ of French warship in turbulent Taiwan Strait A source close to the PLA Navy leadership said China felt the French warship’s journey into the strait was “obviously instigated” by the United States. “Such a passage embarrassed Beijing. So, we advised them [the Marine Nationale] not to send the warship to the parade, though a delegation would still be welcomed,” the source said. The source said that when the PLA Navy extended the invitation to its French counterpart, it expected that its guest would understand the sensitivity surrounding Western naval vessels entering the strait. On Tuesday, 18 vessels from 13 nations – including Russia and Japan – were involved in the anniversary flotilla, while delegations from 61 countries observed. Foreign warships sailed through the strait on their way to Qingdao, but those voyages took place after they were invited to join the anniversary flotilla and nearly three weeks after the Vendémiaire made its contentious voyage. Why China letting Japan’s warship fly the rising sun flag is a sign of the ‘closer’ times According to Reuters, the Vendémiaire was shadowed by Chinese forces as it was crossed the 200km-wide strait between Fujian province and Taiwan, which is regarded by Beijing as a breakaway province to be reunited with China by force if necessary. Ships pass through the busy waterway every day, but the Vendémiaire’s crossing came as the US Navy increased its presence in the region and Washington called for allies such as Japan and Australia to join what it called “freedom of navigation” exercises. Since October, the US has sent navy and coastguard ships through the strait five times. China described these operations as “provocative behaviours”. The 26-year old, 2,950-tonne Vendémiaire’s home port is in French New Caledonia in the Pacific, and it has called at Guangzhou, Zhanjiang, Shanghai and Hong Kong on its travels over the years. In its 13th and most recent trip to China in 2016, the frigate called at Qingdao for a fourth time and took part in an exercise with the Chinese Type 054 frigate Weifang. Before going through the strait, the Vendémiaire was on a friendship visit to the Philippines in March, and arrived in Japan for an exercise on April 11.