BEIJING – Britain's defense minister says his country will sail a warship through the South China Sea to assert the right of free passage amid Chinese claims to virtually all of the strategic waterway.
Gavin Williamson was quoted by The Australian newspaper on Tuesday as saying the anti-submarine frigate HMS Sutherland will sail through the area on its return from a visit to Australia beginning this week.
Williamson didn't say whether the Sutherland would sail near Chinese-controlled islands in the area as American Navy ships have done. Such cruises, known as freedom of navigation operations, routinely draw protests from Beijing.
China has carried out extensive land reclamation work on many of the islands and reefs it claims, equipping some with air strips and military installations.
Williamson visited Australia earlier this week.