BEIJING (Dispatches) -- China has warned Britain against sailing ships through disputed waters in the South China Sea, saying that such a move would be "hostile" and hinting that Beijing would be forced to respond militarily.
Reacting to a suggestion that the UK might send its aircraft carrier close to the contested Spratly Islands, with U.S. jets onboard, China's ambassador to the UK said Britain "should not do this dirty job for somebody else".
Speaking to the Defense Correspondents' Association in London, Liu Xiaoming rejected the argument that the Royal Navy would be upholding international rules concerning Freedom of Navigation.
"The South China Sea is a vast ocean, it is three million square kilometers wide, we have no objection to people sailing around there but do not enter Chinese territorial waters within twelve nautical miles,” Liu said.
"If you don't do that, there shouldn't be a problem. The South China Sea is wide enough to have free navigation of shipping."
The Spratly and Paracel Islands sit in strategic shipping lanes and are variously claimed by a number of nations in the region including China, Vietnam and the Philippines.
The United States navy conducts occasional operations in the South China Sea to challenge China's territorial claim.
In February last year, the former Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson said that Britain must be ready to use "hard power" to deter adversaries and so the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth would be sent to the South China Sea on her first operational deployment.
The Chinese defense attaché, speaking alongside the ambassador at the same event, said: "If the U.S. and UK join hands in a challenge or violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China, that would be hostile action."
But the UK government responded by insisting the aircraft carrier would still visit the South Pacific in 2021.
Ambassador Liu also said that China would be forced to intervene in Hong Kong if the state's security forces lost control.
"If the riots become uncontrollable for the Hong Kong government, China cannot sit on its hands and watch. Hong Kong is part of China. We can't watch this violence go on and on."