September 25, 2018 / 12:59 AM / 8 months ago

China hopes Britain doesn't take sides, respects South China Sea sovereignty

China’s top diplomat State Councillor Wang Yi speaks during a meeting with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, Russia April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin - UP1EE450RWAXY

BEIJING (Reuters) - China hopes that Britain can stand by its position of not taking sides in the South China Sea and earnestly respect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, the Chinese government’s top diplomat told Britain’s foreign minister.

Beijing expressed anger after a British Royal Navy warship sailed close to islands claimed by China in the South China Sea late last month, saying Britain was engaged in “provocation” and that it had lodged a strong complaint.

China also warned that ties were at risk after the naval operation.

Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi met British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt on the sidelines of a United Nations meeting in New York on Monday and expressed China’s “stern position” on the South China Sea, China’s Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.

China “hopes that Britain will truly implement its position of not taking sides in the South China Sea issue, earnestly respect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and not do anything to disturb mutual trust between the two countries”, it cited Wang as saying.

China and Britain, which have talked of a “golden era” of relations, agreed last month to look at the possibility of reaching a “top notch” post-Brexit free trade deal that promises an important political win for the conservative British government.

China’s statement on Wang’s meeting with Hunt made no mention of Brexit or the free trade deal.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Paul Tait

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