France, Britain to sail warships in contested South China Sea to challenge Beijing


The two countries, both permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, made the remarks at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, echoing the latest US plan to ramp up its freedom of navigation operations to counter Beijing’s militarisation in the region and its stance that territorial disputes should be a matter between China and its Asian neighbours.

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A French maritime task group, together with British helicopters and ships, will visit Singapore next week and then sail “into certain areas” of the South China Sea, French armed forces minister Florence Parly told the annual defence forum.

Without naming China, she suggested the warships will cross into “territorial waters” claimed by Beijing and envisioned a potential encounter with its military.

“At some point a stern voice intrudes into the transponder and tells us to sail away from supposedly ‘territorial waters’,” she said. “But our commander then calmly replies that he will sail forth, because these, under international law, are indeed international waters.”

Parly said although France was not a claimant in the South China Sea disputes, by conducting such exercises “on a regular basis with allies and friends” it was contributing to a rule-based order.

“By exercising our freedom of navigation, we also place ourselves in the position of a persistent objector to the creation of any claim to de facto sovereignty on the islands,” she said.

Instead of accepting the situation as a fait accompli, Parly said France should question it, otherwise it will be established as a right.

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“I believe we should broaden this effort even further,” said Parly, adding that Europe was mobilising more widely to support this endeavour and there were also German observers on board.

Beijing’s claims to more than 90 per cent of the South China Sea overlap with several of its neighbours’ and in recent months it has expanded militarisation of its man-made islands in the resource-rich waterway.