Royal Navy in South China Sea: 'The British are Clearly Making a Point' - Author

© AP Photo / Li Gang/XinhuaIn this April 12, 2018 photo released by Xinhua News Agency, the Liaoning aircraft carrier is accompanied by navy frigates and submarines conducting an exercises in the South China Sea
In this April 12, 2018 photo released by Xinhua News Agency, the Liaoning aircraft carrier is accompanied by navy frigates and submarines conducting an exercises in the South China Sea - Sputnik International
The actions of a British ship violate Chinese law and relevant international law. This is what the Chinese Foreign Ministry has stated after a British Royal Navy flagship passed through the Paracel Islands and allegedly entered Chinese territorial waters without permission. Beijing has dispatched a frigate and two helicopters to challenge it.

Sputnik has discussed this with Bill Hayton, Associate Fellow at Chatham House's Asia Program and author of "The South China Sea: The Struggle for Power in Asia."

Sputnik: In your view then why is Britain taking such measures and what complications does it bring about in the South China Sea?

Bill Hayton: I think the British are clearly making a point here. There haven't been any Royal Navy ships in the Asia-Pacific region for four years before this one mainly because of defense cuts and things back home. We need to spend money on other things, and this is mainly because the UK is building a defense relationship with Japan, wants to have a global presence in the context of Brexit as a second reason.

But I think while they're there they're making a point that they want to stand up for international rules and that basically from the British point of view, from the general consensus that ships can sail wherever they want to sail and that includes through these disputed waters.

READ MORE: Beijing to Launch Satellite Network to Monitor South China Sea Traffic

Sputnik: China's always been very robust in its actions and its desire and command and control over the South China Sea, what benefits is Britain ultimately trying to reap? Is this some sort of collaboration with the United States?

Bill Hayton: Yes, I think that's part of it, but don't forget that in July last year three Chinese warships sailed through the English Channel through British territorial waters and the British didn't raise any objections when the Chinese did that. And so really the British are just doing in the South China Sea what China and Russia and every other country does in the UK and American territorial waters. So really it's kind of a bit rich for the Chinese to complain about this.

Sputnik: Why is Britain prioritizing a closer alliance with the US despite the controversial current administration instead of pursuing a trade deal?

British Royal Navy Guided missile Destroyer HMS Exeter (L) passes a Chinese naval vessel, off the eastern port city of Qingdao. File photo - Sputnik International
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Bill Hayton: It's basically showing that the British government isn't going to lie down flat in order to get a trade deal with anybody. Realistically, there isn't much chance of getting a trade deal with China in the short-term anyway. The issues are far too complex, so it's a very long-term process, and the idea that it would be sort of knocked off course by a single warship sailing past these islands I think is a bit far-fetched really.

The Chinese are much more concerned about the global role that London might play in its financial plans, whether the UK can help in its Belt and Road initiative, that kind of thing. I don't think they're going to get too upset about this. There is no doubt that China would like other states to just keep well away from the South China Sea so that China can do what it wants there.

READ MORE: Prof: China Can Create Conditions for Trade Talks Using S China Sea, DPRK Issues

Sputnik: Just give us a synopsis for the current situation in the South China Sea, it's obviously, one, it is interesting, and two, it is quite complex for the wider global audience. We've obviously got these islands, we've got the situation between China and Taiwan unraveling. Obviously, we got the Japanese situation. Obviously, freedom of movement along this strait as well, what's the general picture at the moment and what are the obstacles moving forward?

Bill Hayton: On the surface, things look pretty calm and stable. Nobody's fighting anybody. There are no ships bumping into one another as there have been in the past; underlying it all is the constant Chinese pressure for expansion and the other states that are claiming islands and sea zones in the sea are getting worried about this constant pressure against them, particularly, over questions of oil and gas rights.

People watch as Britain's new flagship HMS Queen Elizabeth arrives in Portsmouth, Britain, Wednesday Aug. 16, 2017 - Sputnik International
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Vietnam has certainly been pressured by China on this and other countries too. So I think we should put this voyage really in the context of that. This is the British sort of saying to other countries: We're thinking about you and we're trying to reassure you, you're not abandoned. The Taiwan question is another dynamic and you could say in some ways it is probably more important to the Chinese.

On the Japanese front things have been warming up recently between China and Japan. So it's constantly moving and I think the Chinese know that they shouldn't try press all the buttons at the same time. So maybe things are dialing down a little bit with the Japanese, and maybe they can put more pressure on the Taiwanese. It's a constantly shifting situation.

The views and opinions expressed by Bill Hayton are those of the researcher and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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