By: Zack Duvall
In an official statement during a press conference on Thursday, Britain’s Defense Minister, Michael Fallon, said that the Royal Navy plans to deploy a warship to the South China Sea sometime next year, a move that is expected to draw sharp criticism from Chinese officials.
“We hope to send a warship to the region next year.We have not finalized exactly where the deployment will take place but we won’t be constrained by China from sailing through the South China Sea. We have a right of freedom of navigation and we will exercise it.” Fallon told reporters during an official Defense Ministry news conference.
Last year the UK sent four fighter jets to take part in joint-drills with Japanese forces that took part in the region, a move that experts at the time said indicated the nation’s intentions to take a more active role in that part of the world.
However, Just as Britain is taking a harder approach in the South China Sea, so is China, who has taken an increasingly assertive tone on tensions over the region that has more than a trillion-dollars worth of trade flow through annually. Beijing has used some of the harshest rhetoric yet in recent months, and vowed to defend what Chinese officials have called “Chinese territorial waters”.
The two nations had hoped that after the vote by British voters to exit the European Union, diplomatic and economic ties would enter into a “golden age”but the recent decision by British defense officials is expected to provoke push-back from leaders in Beijing.
China has always strongly claimed the South China Sea as legitimate territory of the country, and has built a chain of artificial islands in the region. The islands, that have been the source of strong condemnation from the international community, are home to several military airstrips and a naval base for the Chinese military.
The U.S. also maintains a constant presence in the South China Sea, and routinely conducts military maneuvers and drills in the region. The most recent such drill being conducted just 12-nautical miles from the man-made islands.
China’s Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, is set to meet with counter-parts from the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) next week in Manila, a meeting that is expected to be dominated by the disputed waters.