Aerial image of the islands in the South China Sea (Picture: US Army).
Britain has been warned that HMS Queen Elizabeth's deployment to the South China Sea could be seen as a "hostile action" if it moves close to the contested Spratly Islands.
Speaking at an event in London, China's Ambassador to the UK Liu Xiaoming said that deploying the largest aircraft carrier ever built for the Royal Navy may be seen as an aggressive action.
"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 12 nautical miles," he said.
He added that Beijing might be forced to respond militarily to HMS Queen Elizabeth's deployment.
The Ministry of Defence plans to send the new aircraft carrier to the Asia Pacific region during her first operational deployment, which is scheduled for 2021.
The UK government is keen to assert Freedom of Navigation through international waters, but Mr Liu rejected the argument that the Royal Navy would be upholding international rules concerning Freedom of Navigation should the carrier enter Chinese territorial waters.
"If the US and UK join hands in a challenge or violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China, that would be hostile action," said Major General Su Guanghui, China’s Defence Attaché to the UK.
In 2018, China did not react well when HMS Albion transited the South China Sea near the Paracel Islands - over which China, Vietnam and Taiwan all claim sovereignty.
HMS Albion's transit was seen as a "provocative action" in the region by Chinese authorities, but the Ministry of Defence stated that the transit happened in international waters.