‘Play by the rules’: UK Defense Sec sends warships to South China Sea in veiled challenge to Beijing
The UK, alongside France, pledged to step up its efforts to tackle China’s militarization of the South China Sea. Both European countries have committed to a new exercise, which will see the deployment of a French maritime task group alongside UK ships.
While stopping short of calling out China specifically, Williamson said: “We believe nations should follow agreed rules, but this is being ignored by some and what this does is it undermines peace and prosperity of all nations.
“We have to make it clear that nations need to play by the rules and that there are consequences for not doing so,” he added, while speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue this week in Singapore.
Britain, a country with no sovereign claim to the area, will be sending three warships to the location this year in a bid to ensure that ‘rules’ are respected there.
Up to seven countries claim to have sovereignty over the area. China claims the majority of the territory and, in recent years, has built artificial islands and conducted increased patrols to bolster its case. Meanwhile, Malaysia, Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam, among others, also have military installments in the area.
China’s actions have triggered criticism by US Defense Secretary James Mattis, who said the deployment of military hardware, including anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles and electronic jammers, calls into question China’s “broader goals.”
“China's militarization of artificial features in the South China Sea includes the deployment of anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles, electronic jammers and more recently, the landing of bomber aircraft at Woody Island,” he said.
Mattis said that Beijing's policy in the South China Sea “stands in stark contrast to the openness our strategy promotes.”
The South China Sea has great strategic importance for the surrounding countries and international powers, as it is one of the globe’s major hotspots for trade; one-third of the world's shipping passes through its straits, carrying over $3 trillion of goods each year. It is also home to fisheries providing food for millions in southeast Asia, while huge oil and gas reserves are thought to lie beneath its seabed.
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