UK warship to sail in disputed S China Sea

UK warship to sail in disputed S China Sea

SYDNEY
UK warship to sail in disputed S China Sea

A British warship will sail from Australia through the disputed South China Sea next month to assert freedom of navigation rights, a senior official said yesterday in a move likely to irk Beijing.

China claims nearly all of the resource-rich waterway and has been turning reefs and islets into islands and installing military facilities such as runways and equipment on them. British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson said HMS Sutherland, an anti-submarine frigate, would arrive in Australia later this week.

“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,” he told The Australian newspaper after a two-day visit to Sydney and Canberra.

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 US ships have done. But he said: “We absolutely support the U.S. approach on this, we very much support what the U.S. has been doing.”

In January, Beijing said it had dispatched a warship to drive away a US missile destroyer which had “violated” its sovereignty by sailing close to a shoal in the sea. Williamson said it was important that U.S. allies such as Britain and Australia “assert our values” in the South China Sea, which is believed to hold vast oil and gas deposits.

United Kingdom, warship, China