A British warship has sailed close to islands in the South China Sea in defiance of Beijing’s “excessive claims” to the disputed territory, according to two anonymous sources.

The Royal Navy declared “freedom of navigation rights” as the HMS Albion passed by the Paracel Islands in recent days on its way to Vietnam.

The Albion, a 22,000-ton amphibious ship carrying a contingent of Royal Marines, docked in Ho Chi Minh City on Monday following a deployment in and around Japan.

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