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 responded militarily.
Reacting to a suggestion that the UK might send its aircraft carrier close to the contested Spratly Islands, with US jets onboard, China's Ambassador to the UK said Britain "should not do this dirty job for somebody else".
Speaking to the Defence 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 kilometres wide, we have no objection to people sailing around there but do not enter Chinese territorial waters within twelve nautical miles.
"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 regular freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea to challenge China's territorial claim.