United Kingdom risks Beijing anger by sailing warship into South China Sea


The HMS Sutherland will sail through the South China Sea to assert freedom-of-navigation rights, according to remarks made by the British defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, while visiting Australia.

Mr Williamson did not say whether Sutherland, a Type 23 frigate, would sail within 12 nautical miles of any of the islands claimed by China.

He said: 'She'll be sailing through the South China Sea (on the way home) and making it clear our navy has a right to do that'.

China's interests in the South China Sea remain a controversial global issue.

Both sides touted progress they had made following the meeting, with the Philippines eager to demonstrate that it is successfully managing this aspect of ties despite domestic and worldwide criticism, and China looking to once again advance its "cooling down" narrative in the South China Sea into 2018 (See: "Beware the Illusion of South China Sea Calm").

In a move that is likely to irk Beijing, HMS Sutherland, an anti-submarine frigate, will set sail from Australia, taking a detour through through the resource-rich waterway on its way back to Britain.

But Williamson said in an interview with Australian media that the US would not be able to adequately focus on the issue alone, saying that Washington "was looking for other countries to do more".

China has created several military facilities on parts of land in the South China Sea, but Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines also claim the sea is theirs.

Benham Rise lies on the other side of the Philippine archipelago from the South China Sea, where Manila, Beijing and four other governments have been locked in territorial disputes.

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He would not say whether the frigate would sail within 12 nautical miles of a disputed territory or artificial island built by the Chinese, as United States ships have done.

"But ... there's a much higher chance that they prefer to sit out from doing FONOPs and poking China right in the eye", he said.

"The US is looking for other countries to do more".

He said: "I think we've always got to be vigilant to any form of malign intent".

".Both sides reaffirmed that contentious maritime issues are not the sum total of the Philippines-China bilateral relationship", the countries said in a joint statement released Tuesday. China offers great opportunities but it provides great challenges as well.

Maintaining the spirit of their first consultation in Guiyang, China in May 2017, representatives of China and the Philippines on Tuesday agreed to promote peace and stability in the region, and reaffirmed the importance of keeping the policy of freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea.

"So the stark warning is meant to forestall a growing momentum of global opinion and support" for the US line of thinking on the row, he said.

Beijing has warned against "stirring up trouble" in the South China Sea after Britain vowed to send a warship through the heart of disputed waters next month.