China has accused Britain of an act of provocation in the Taiwan Strait after a British frigate sailed through the strategic waterway.
In a statement on Monday, China’s Eastern Theater Command strongly censured the passage of the HMS Richmond through the Taiwan Strait and said the UK is engaging in behavior that “harbored evil intentions.”
“This kind of behavior harbors evil intentions and damages peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” it said. “Theater command forces always maintain a high level of alert and resolutely counter all threats and provocations.”
It further noted that the Chinese military had followed the vessel throughout its passage earlier in the day and issued a warning for it.
The HMS Richmond, part of the Queen Elizabeth carrier strike group, said in a post on its Twitter account that it was sailing through the sensitive waterway, which separates Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) from mainland China, to exercise “freedom of navigation rights” on the high seas. It said it was shadowed by two Chinese vessels as it passed the strait en route to Vietnam.
Chinese Taipei’s Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng did not comment directly on the British frigate’s passage, saying he did not know what missions foreign ships in the Taiwan Strait were conducting.
“When they pass through the Taiwan Strait, our nation’s military will have a grasp of the situation, but will not interfere,” he said, adding that they keep a close watch on all movements near the self-ruled island.
China considers Chinese Taipei a breakaway province that should be reunited with the mainland.
US warships periodically carry out voyages through the strait, drawing responses from China, which has sovereignty over the self-governed island. Under the “One China” policy, almost all world countries recognize that sovereignty. The US, too, recognizes Chinese sovereignty over the island but has long courted Taipei in an attempt to unnerve Beijing.
While US warships pass through the strait on an almost monthly basis, despite Chinese opposition, the United States’ allies have generally been reluctant to follow suit.
China has already sent a stern warning to the UK against deploying warships to the disputed South China Sea.
The US and its allies side with Beijing’s rival claimants in maritime disputes in the South China Sea, while China has always warned the US against military activities in the sea. Beijing says potential close military encounters between the air and naval forces of the two countries in the region may cause accidents.