BRITAIN is sending a warship through the South China Sea to challenge China’s claims to the waters off its coast, Defence Minister Gavin Williamson said today.
Mr Williamson said HMS Sutherland would sail through the area on its return from Australia, where it was headed after leaving the US military base in the Chagos Islands, whose residents were told recently by a British court they could never return.
He told The Australian newspaper that the gunboat’s voyage would make “it clear our navy has a right” to sail through the South China Sea.
It follows the US navy sending entire groups of battleships close to Chinese facilities on islands in the sea.
Mr Williamson said Britain backs US missions that take warships within the 12-nautical-mile territorial water limit of Chinese-controlled islands.
While China and its neighbours have conflicting claims over the waterway, foreign powers from outside the region have used the issue to strike increasingly belligerent postures towards China.
But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang stressed today that “thanks to the concerted efforts by China and littoral countries in the South China Sea, there is no problem with freedom of navigation and overflight.”
Britain’s navy has openly stated it intends to take an aggressive posture worldwide. First Sea Lord Sir Philip Jones said last year: “I cannot remember a time when the Royal Navy has been more relevant to the UK’s security challenges, or more important to our global ambitions.”
He also noted that PM Theresa May had said that the navy was “central to her vision for Britain to forge a new positive, confident role for our country on the global stage.”
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