Britain is set to provoke anger in Beijing after it vowed to send a warship through the heart of disputed waters in the South China Sea next month.
Gavin Williamson, British Defence Secretary, said HMS Sutherland, an anti-submarine frigate, would sail through the sea on its way home from Australia to assert freedom of navigation rights.
"She'll be sailing through the South China Sea and making it clear our Navy has a right to do that," he told The Australian newspaper after a two-day visit to Sydney and Canberra.
China claims nearly all of the strategic waters, despite partial counter-claims from Taiwan and several south-east Asian nations including the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam.
Observers say China is developing its military capabilities by fortifying and building infrastructure on what were previously reefs and partially-submerged islets in the sea, where more than $5 trillion (£3.8 trillion) of trade passes every year.
Beijing has been enraged with previous ‘freedom of navigation’ patrolswhich have been carried out by the US Navy, and has sent out warships to confront them.
The US patrols have sailed within 12 nautical miles of disputed territory or artificial islands built by China - the distance internationally recognised as a territorial limit.
Mr Williamson would not say whether the frigate would sail within 12 nautical miles of the land formations.
However, he added: "We absolutely support the US approach on this, we very much support what the US has been doing."
Richard Bitzinger, a regional defence expert with the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said the international community was powerless to react to China's assertiveness in the region despite the UK's tough words.