China hit the Royal Navy with a warning against sailing near islands it claims to own in the South China Sea.

Britain responded in an attempt to diffuse the situation by promising HMS Queen Elizabeth would steer clear of the disputed Spratly and Paracel Islands, by "10s of miles".

China is controversially building new islands off reefs also claimed by the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei.

But the UK assured Chinese forces that it had no intention of checking out its construction work on the islands and was instead just heading in the most direct route from Singapore to the Philippines Sea.

Chinese President Xi Jinping
Several of China's ownership claims over islands are disputed

The aircraft carrier and allied ships entered the South China Sea earlier this week and are expected to leave by the end of Saturday, The Guardian reports.

Just last month the Royal Navy sailed into trouble off the coast of the disputed territory of Crimea.

The coastguard and low-flying planes were deployed by Russia to warn off HMS Defender in a tense confrontation.

Chinese People's Liberation Army
The Chinese People's Liberation Army

Rather than facing off with China's defences alone, the Queen Elizabeth and its support ships is sailing to join international allies of the US, Australia, France and Japan for naval exercises in the Philippines Sea.

The congregation of global powers on the water is a demonstration of strength and solidarity in the face of intimidation from Beijing.

One source said one exercise could be the Royal Navy sailing to Japan’s Senkaku Islands, in the East China Sea, which China also claims to own.

Joe Biden
U.S. President Joe Biden's defence secretary has asked if the Royal Navy should work more elsewhere

Partnering with Japan at sea is part of Britain trying to build on its post-Brexit relationship with the country.

A spokesperson for China’s Ministry of National Defence, Wu Qian, said: "The action should never try to destabilise regional peace, including the latest military collaboration between the UK and Japan.

"The Chinese navy will take any necessary actions to counter-measure such behaviour."

Royal Navy warship
Royal Navy's HMS Queen Elizabeth has been hit with a warning by China

This is the first time Britain’s new strike group of two destroyers and two frigates, has sailed to the Asia-Pacific region.

China’s hawkish state media, the Global Times, said: "The very idea of a British presence in the South China Sea is dangerous.

"If London tries to establish a military presence in the region with geopolitical significance, it will only disrupt the status quo in the region … And if there is any real action against China, it is looking for a defeat."

Later this year, the UK will also permanently assign two warships to the region, The Guardian reports.

In April defence secretary, Ben Wallace said: "We are not going to go to the other side of the world to be provocative. We will be confident, but not confrontational."

On Tuesday the US defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, suggested the UK could perhaps "be more helpful in other parts of the world".

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