Chinese state media has blasted the UK’s plans to send its largest warship through disputed waters where Beijing has staked its claim, saying that Britain can’t accept the loss of its empire.
A state editorial written by Wu Zhenglong, China’s former ambassador to Croatia posed the question: “As an island country in the Atlantic Ocean, why does the UK travel far and wide to the South China Sea to make troubles?”
The answer is because the British are “reluctant to accept the demise of the empire,” Mr Wu writes.
“The UK now acts as a tool of the United States to contain China, and just win a bubble reputation of ‘global military presence.’ It may just as well face the reality and apply its precious funds to the development of domestic economy and improvement of people’s lives.”
The row between Beijing and London started last week when Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson announced plans to send a new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth carrying two squadrons of F-35 fighter jets into the disputed waters of the South China Sea.
His speech came as the UK and US conducted their first joint naval drills in the disputed South China Sea last month.
In retaliation, China is believed to have cancelled trade talks that were being arranged with Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The UK is balancing a delicate relationship with China in the wake of Brexit and last year, Theresa May called for a return to the “golden era” of Sino-British relations during her first visit to China.
In a separate editorial, state media newspaper China Daily issued a thinly veiled threat saying it would be “no surprise then that Beijing would have second thoughts about committing to any trade engagement.
“If Whitehall is determined to confront Beijing, it should not expect to profit from a warm relationship,” the editorial said.
Last August, a Royal Navy warship sailed close to the Paracel Islands, claimed by Beijing in the South China Sea, a move Beijing quickly denounced as a “provocation.”
The HMS Albion sailed through the disputed waters, the latest sign of Britain increasingly flexing its military muscle in the region, and was reportedly confronted by the Chinese military after Beijing dispatched a frigate and two helicopters to challenge the British vessel.
The Albion, a 22,000-ton amphibious warship, was carrying a contingent of Royal marines on its way to Ho Chi Minh City.