China issues warning to UK as warships pass disputed islands in South China Sea

China claims a number of islands in the South China Sea are part of its territory.
China claims a number of islands in the South China Sea are part of its territory. Photo credit: Getty Images

China has issued a warning to the United Kingdom as ships from the royal navy enter the contested South China Sea, reportedly calling Britain a "bitch" that is "asking for a beating".

The comments - published in the Global Times - come as the UK's Carrier Strike Group, led by the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, sails through the South China Sea on its way to Japan.

China claims a number of islands in the area are part of its territory, despite other countries in the area strongly refuting such claims.

As the carrier strike group passes through the area, The Global Times - which is widely seen as a mouthpiece for the Chinese Government - said "the People's Liberation Army Navy is at a high state of combat readiness", BBC News reported.

In an editorial, The Global Times said it wanted to "seriously warn" the UK navy that "they are obliged to remain restrained and obey the rules". 

"Please follow the current international shipping lanes and stay at least 12 nautical miles away from the Chinese islands and reefs," the publication said.

"US warships have repeatedly entered the 12 nautical miles of the Chinese islands illegally in the South China Sea. So far, China has remained restrained to the largest extent. Yet it does not mean we will tolerate such provocations in the long term, nor does it mean that US allies can learn from the dangerous posture of the US.

"China is likely to escalate its attempts to expel the warships at any time. In the future, stopping such intrusive behavior that violates China's territorial waters is a struggle China is destined to intensify."

British media also reported the pro-Government publication called the UK a "bitch...asking for a beating", though it appears that phrase has now been removed from the article.

"To say it precisely, if the UK wants to play the role to coerce China in the South China Sea, then it is being a bitch. If it has any substantial move, it is asking for a beating," British media quoted the publication as originally saying.

According to The Guardian, the UK says despite the show of strength it has no plans to engage in a naval confrontation with China.

The deployment of the HMS Queen Elizabeth to East Asia is seen as part of a move by the UK to increase its role in global security, according to the BBC.