In a move that will further inflame tensions with Beijing, the UK is planning to send a warship to the disputed South China Sea next year.
Tensions have been escalating between China and the US for the past few years over the disputed region, with China has repeatedly warning the US against naval patrols in the region.
British Defense Minister Michael Fallon said on Thursday that Britain would increase its presence in the waters after it sent four combat aircraft for joint exercises with Japan in the region last year.
Press TV reports:
“We hope to send a warship to region next year. We have not finalized exactly where that deployment will take place but we won’t be constrained by China from sailing through the South China Sea,” Fallon told Reuters.
“We flew RAF Typhoons through the South China Sea last October and we will exercise that right whenever we next have the opportunity to do so, whenever we have ships or planes in the region,” he added.
UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson also said Thursday that Britain plans to sail two new aircraft carriers through contested Asian waters.
“One of the first things we will do with the two new colossal aircraft carriers that we have just built is send them on a freedom of navigation operation to this area,” he said in Sydney following a joint meeting between British and Australian foreign and defense ministers.
HMS Queen Elizabeth, the largest ship ever built for the Royal Navy, is due to come into service in 2020. HMS Prince of Wales will enter service in 2023.
The presence of a British vessel threatens to stoke tensions with China. Beijing has repeatedly denounced efforts by countries from outside the region to get involved in the South China Sea dispute.