South China Sea row: Britain’s shock military challenges to China amid US tussle


SOUTH CHINA SEA tensions have seen numerous Asian countries, the US, and a relentless China, tussle for influence in the region – but Beijing has also been embroiled in volatile exchanges with the UK as rivals round on the superpower’s takeover.

The UK has helped the US in trying to thwart China’s growing authority in the South China Sea, where they have engulfed contested island clusters with monstrous island fortresses. Hostility between China and the UK spiked in September this year, when Britain announced it would send its warship HMS Queen Elizabeth to the region, sparking fury in Beijing.

Major General Su Guanghui, China’s defence attache to Britain said at the time: “If the US and UK join hands in a challenge or violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China, that would be hostile action.”

The UK has periodically sent ships to the South China Sea to help other powers defy China’s controversial Nine-Dash Line claim.

In September 2018, a similar waters patrol was undertaken aboard the UK’s HMS Albion.

Tensions appeared to have spiralled out of control when Beijing sent a frigate and two helicopters to the region, suggesting a military challenge was imminent.

However, as Reuters reported at the time, the encounter didn’t result in any hostility.

Beijing sent a chilling warning in response to the action though, telling those in London that “China will continue to take all necessary measures to defend its sovereignty and security.”

But the UK isn’t the only European country to undermine Beijing’s stubborn claim.

In September this year, France sent its frigate, Dixmude, to the highly contentious Spratly Islands, an area which the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia also have claims over.

The Nine-Dash Line claim highlights waters which China claims historical sovereignty over, although international bodies have ruled that the claim is illegitimate.

China has turned the Spratly Islands into a series of military bases by moving its aircraft carriers into the region, as well as installing airstrips and weapons.

The elaborate nature of China’s occupation in the contested islands has earned it the nickname: “The Great Wall of Sand.”

Described by many as “island fortresses”, China has engulfed the South China Sea with man made island bases.

A leaked set of photos given to a Filipino newspaper showed just how elaborate the developments on military bases have been.

Some photographs showed cargo ships and supply vessels, which the newspaper said appeared to be delivering construction materials to the China-controlled islands.

Others show runways, hangars, control towers, helipads and radomes as well as a series of multistorey buildings that China has built on reefs.

The South China Sea is hotly contested because of its lucrative shipping lanes, capacity for military strategic advantages and wealth of natural resources such as oil and minerals.

At the centre of this disagreement are various island clusters such as the Spratly Islands and the Paracel Islands.

China has had particularly tense relations with Vietnam and the Philippines over islands in the region.