Chinese-British relations ‘complicated’ by South China Sea military plans


Britain said its relationship with China was facing complications, triggered by the plan to send a new Royal Navy aircraft carrier to the Pacific.

The admission follows Britain’s participation this week in a joint naval drill with the US in the South China Sea, as part of an effort by the US and its allies to boost their military presence in the hotly contested waters.

UK Finance Minister Philip Hammond said China-UK relations had been damaged by Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson’s threat to deploy the Queen Elizabeth warship, along with two squadrons of F-35B Lightning II joint strike fighters, to the disputed waters.

China has reportedly cancelled planned trade talks with Hammond due to its anger at the announcement.

Britain’s naval ambitions to once again rule the waves are laughable at best and make no sense at all
“It is a complex relationship and it hasn’t been made simpler by Chinese concerns about Royal Navy deployments in the South China Sea,” Hammond said in a BBC radio programme on Thursday.

“This is entirely premature, the aircraft carrier isn’t going to be at full operational readiness for another couple of years, no decisions have been made or even discussed about where its early deployments might be.”

Hammond’s comments came after a joint exercise with the US on Monday – which included a search and seizure scenario – and less than a week after the American Indo-Pacific commander Admiral Phil Davidson said the US and its allies would be stepping up naval operations in the disputed area, which has become a dangerous flashpoint between China and the US.

British marines and sailors from the Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose and crew members from the US Navy’s fleet replenishment oiler USNS Guadalupe carried out the maritime security and logistics training in the South China Sea.

The US Navy said on Wednesday that the exercise had involved a “visit, board, search and seizure scenario”, in which a boarding team from the Montrose embarked and secured the Guadalupe, which was acting as a vessel engaged in high seas trafficking,

US steps up freedom of navigation patrols in South China Sea to counter Beijing’s ambitions
The ships also practised replenishment at sea using Nato procedures, which ensured the two ships, despite never having worked together before, could safely and efficiently transfer fuel while underway.

“The drills are designed to share and strengthen techniques used to help ensure maritime security presence in the South China Sea,” the US Navy said on its official Twitter account on Thursday.

The US has vowed to step up freedom of navigation operations in the region, together with its allies and partners – including Britain, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and France – something that Beijing regards as a violation of its sovereignty.