British Navy warship sails near South China Sea islands--sources:The Asahi Shimbun

US ships South China Sea

US ships in the South China Sea

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.

HMS Albion passed by the Paracel Islands en-route to Vietnam asserting "freedom of navigation rights" according to Reuters' sources.

The Chinese told HMS Albion to leave in "an aggressive manner", taking position "irresponsibly close" to the ship, the BBC's Jonathan Beale has been told.

The situation in the South China Sea has stabilised, with the joint efforts of China and Southeast Asian countries, the country's defence ministry said in a statement responding to the Royal Navy action.

The other source said that the Albion did not enter the territorial seas around any features in the region, but demonstrated that Britain does not recognize excessive claims around the Paracels.

The South China Sea is one of the most heavily disputed regions in the world, with Beijing claiming an enormous swathe of territory from their southern coast, nearly to the shore of Malaysia.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs told Reuters in a statement: "The relevant actions by the British ship violated Chinese law and relevant worldwide law, and infringed on China's sovereignty".

Adding to the tension, the Foreign Ministry late on Thursday said Britain should stop "gesticulating" about Hong Kong and interfering in China's internal affairs, after Britain issued its latest six-monthly report on its former colony.

Defence ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said the Chinese military sent ships and planes to identify and warn off the British vessel, and that China would continue to take all necessary measures to defend its sovereignty and national security.

The encounter came at a delicate time in London-Beijing relations.

Britain has long courted China for a post-Brexit trade deal and talked up a "golden era" in ties, although any talks could not begin until Britain officially leaves the European Union and typically take many years to conclude.

While the US Navy has always been plying the waters exercising freedom of navigation, the British challenge came after the US said it would like to see more worldwide participation in such actions.

While the United States has conducted freedom of navigation operations in the same area in the past, the British challenge comes after the USsaid it would like to see more global participation in such actions.

Why is the South China Sea important to China?

"It might also nudge other US allies to make similar moves".

The HMS Albion is one of the UK Navy's two amphibious assault ships, with capacity for more than 400 sailors. Neither the US Navy nor other countries in the flashpoint region have allowed China's threats and warnings to affect their operations.

This is what global law looks like", tweeted Bill Hayton, author of The South China Sea: "The Struggle for Power in Asia.

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