Beijing filed a complaint on Thursday after a British Royal Navy warship carrying a contingent of Royal marines navigated near Paracels Islands without permission. The HMS Albion warship was on its way to Ho Chi Minh City, for docking after deployment in Japan.
China’s foreign ministry stated, “The relevant actions by the British ship violated Chinese law and relevant international law, and infringed on China’s sovereignty. China strongly opposes this and has lodged stern representations with the British side to express strong dissatisfaction.”
“China strongly urges the British side to immediately stop such provocative actions, to avoid harming the broader picture of bilateral relations and regional peace and stability. China will continue to take all necessary measures to defend its sovereignty and security.”
A spokesman for the Royal Navy said: “HMS Albion exercised her rights for freedom of navigation in full compliance with international law and norms.”
China’s claims in the strategic waterway in South China Sea have been persistently challenged by Brunei, Philippines, Vietnam, Japan, Malaysia and Taiwan.
Britain and the US have been conducting Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) in the same area but the recent event has been linked to the US administration’s call for the international community to participate in challenging China’s growing control of the disputed area.
Ian Storey of Singapore’s ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute said, “The UK’s actions will please Washington as the Trump administration has grumbled that U.S. allies have been remiss in upholding freedom of navigation in the South China Sea,”
“But China will be displeased as it suggests that U.S. allies are responding to Washington’s appeals… It might also nudge other U.S. allies to make similar moves.”
FONOPs have not convinced China to suspend its aggressive South China Sea activities such as construction of runways, hangars and defense systems. Beijing continues to claim that it is entitled to build on its territories.
China’s presence in the South China Seas and its claim on disputed islands were strengthened by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s refusal to recognize the Hague ruling which favored the Philippines over China when it filed a diplomatic complaint on the issue in 2015.
Duterte who became the Philippine President in 2016 has long been rumored to have strong ties with the Communist Party of China. Under Duterte’s administration, China has quickly militarized the islands with missiles and landing strips.
It will be interesting to see how President Donald Trump who had publicly declared his admiration of Duterte will handle the United States’ position on the disputed islands.
In contrast, Duterte has not been shy in publicly disclosing his disdain toward America. He once called Americans “stupid” and untrustworthy.