China increasingly isolated as France, Britain set sail for disputed seas


France and Britain are set to sail through the South China Sea next week, joining international efforts to stand up to the Asian military superpower.

MANILA, Philippines – France and Britain announced they will sail through the South China Sea next week to join international efforts to stand up to China’s increasing aggressiveness in the disputed seas.

French minister of the armed forces Florence Parly and British defense minister Gavin Williamson made the announcement this week during the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.

It comes as China reportedly installed missiles and jammers on reefs-turned-islands, prompting protests from other claimants like Vietnam and even China-friendly Philippines.

It’s a significant development in the South China Sea dispute, experts told Rappler, noting how the Asian military superpower is increasingly isolating itself internationally.

US, Japan, India, and Australia have been sailing in the disputed seas to challenge China’s sweeping claims over important multi-billion-dollar international trade routes.

China claims sovereignty over the disputed waters. It issues radio warnings – if not outright challenges – against other claimants sailing or flying into their occupied areas and other nations exercising innocent passage.

‘China is alone’

Gregory Poling of US-based Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) said increasing international cooperation “shows that China is alone in its desire to rewrite international maritime law.”

“The only way Beijing will recognize the costs of its excessive claims and coercive behavior is if the international community at large pushes back. This is an important step in that direction,” Poling said.

Euan Graham, director of the international security program of Australian think tank Lowy Institute, said it’s “good as a demonstration of will and capability to operate consistent with Freedom of Navigation and international law, regardless of China’s excessive claims and intimidation.”

France committed to sail 5 ships in the region last year, while Britain committed 3 this year, to work with allies in upholding international maritime law, deter nuclear proliferation in North Korea, and fight terrorism.

“It’s been a few years since a British warship was in Asia. Now, suddenly there’s 3,” Graham said.