A Royal Navy warship has sailed close to Chinese claimed islands in the South China Sea in a reported challenge to Beijing's "excessive claims" in the region.
The Chinese told HMS Albion to leave in "an aggressive manner", taking position "irresponsibly close" to the ship, the BBC's Jonathan Beale has been told.
The Royal Navy said: "HMS Albion exercised her rights for freedom of navigation in full compliance with global laws and norms".
A source told the BBC that a Chinese warship tailed the Albion from just 200 metres, while Chinese jets flew low over the British warship during the encounter.
That law included the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, whose landmark 2016 judgement criticized Chinese actions in the South China Sea and found no basis for its sweeping historic claims.
China's definition of the 12-mile limit around the islands is not the same as those limits which have been internationally recognised.
However, London insisted the warship was operating according to global law.
In retaliation, China dispatched a frigate and two military helicopters to confront the HMS Albion.
The naval stand-off comes at a time when the United Kingdom is courting China in the hope of securing a favourable post-Brexit trade deal.
"The relevant actions by the British ship violated Chinese law and relevant global law, and infringed on China's sovereignty", ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.
Adding to the tension, the Foreign Ministry late on Thursday said Britain should stop "gesticulating" about Hong Kong and interfering in China's internal affairs, after Britain issued its latest six-monthly report on its former colony.
Around $3 trillion of shipborne trade passes through the hotly disputed area each year with China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei all staking a claim.
The sea is a major shipping route and home to abundant fishing grounds that supply the livelihoods of people across the region.
In May, the USA sailed two warships past the Paracel Islands for the first time.
Britain does not recognise China's claims on the Paracel Islands and the United States has also carried out Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) in the South China Sea.
However, a landmark judgement at the Hague in 2016 criticised Chinese actions in the South China Sea and found no basis for its sweeping historical claims.
There could be real consequences for Britain, the official China Daily newspaper said in an editorial.
China's Defence Ministry said in its statement responding to the Royal Navy action that, with the joint efforts of China and Southeast Asian countries, the situation in the South China Sea had stabilized.
The China Daily said Britain was trying to "curry favor" with the United States, which has been pushing for more global participation in freedom of navigation operations in the strategic waterway.
It blames Washington for militarising the area with its navigation patrols.
Singapore-based South China Sea expert Ian Storey said Britain had strong traditional interests in defending freedom of navigation but regular deployments in the South China Sea would be constrained due to limited numbers of warships and onerous demands in other parts of the world.
FONOPs - as they are known - challenge territorial claims on the world's oceans and maintain worldwide law.