TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – A British Navy vessel, the HMS Albion, recently sparked anger from the Chinese government by sailing in close proximity to the Paracel Islands chain in the South China Sea, near islands occupied by Beijing.
The British vessel was reportedly asserting its right to freedom of navigation in the region, when it sailed past an island in the Paracel chain which is occupied by Chinese forces. China responded by dispatching a frigate and two helicopters to meet the HMS Albion.
According to reports, the 21,560 ton Albion was carrying a continent of Royal Marines on its way to port in Ho Chi Minh City when the incident occurred. Reuters reports that that HMS Albion reached Ho Chi Minh City on Monday, Sept. 3.
A spokesman for the British Navy was quoted by Reuters as saying the“HMS Albion exercised her rights for freedom of navigation in full compliance with international law and norms.”
The vessel was reportedly more than twelve nautical miles away from the island(s) when it passed, which is the internationally recognized distance demarcating an offshore territorial zone.
Freedom of navigation operations, also known as FONOPs have been practiced more and more frequently by U.S. naval forces in the South China Seas, and the U.S. has called for more international support in recent months to stand up to Beijing’s militarization of the region.
The Paracel Islands, also known as the Xisha Islands (西沙群島), are currently occupied by Chinese forces, but they are claimed by Vietnam, as well as Taiwan.