Beijing has lodged a strong protest to London after a British Royal Navy warship sailed close to islands claimed by China in the South China Sea late last month, warning the UK to end such “provocations,” which it said were harming bilateral relations.
The August 31 incident with the HMS Albion, a 22,000-ton amphibious warship carrying a contingent of Royal Marines that passed near the Paracel Islands [Xisha Islands in China], came exactly a month after British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt visited Beijing to promote a golden era in relations between the two countries.
However, the incident with the Albion could deal a serious blow to these plans, the Beijing-based newspaper China Daily warned.
In an interview with Sputnik, Chinese People's University expert Wang Yiwei said that the British warship’s unauthorized passage near the Xisha Islands reflected London’s maritime ambitions that the United States is trying to use to inflame tensions around China in the South China Sea.
“Once a global empire, Britain maintains its global influence and believes that Asia remains a sphere of its national interests. Moreover, Britain fought in the Korean War, and the South China Sea is an important strategic area for monitoring the situation on the Korean Peninsula. Therefore, on the one hand, the UK is interested in taking part in a future peace agreement on the Korean Peninsula, protecting its interests on a number of Pacific islands in some of its former colonies, thereby demonstrating the existence of a global force,” Wang Yiwei said.
He added that, on the other hand, the US hopes to win over Britain and France, so that the situation looks as if not only the US is arguing with China over the issue of the South China Sea, but that the entire international community is against Beijing. The British have a kind of cognitive dissonance.
“From the point of view of economic interests, they really need the Chinese market, but in terms of security and ideology Britain cannot be together with China. This is why we see some contradictory actions being made by the UK,” Wang noted.
According to Kira Godovanyuk, a European affairs expert at the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Indo-Pacific region is a big priority for London’s maritime strategy.
“Britain’s increased activity in the South China Sea, ostensibly for securing freedom of navigation, is an attempt to act as a united front with the United States on the status of the sea. Here London is acting hand in hand with the United States and Australia, who are actively resisting China’s growing role in the region and these visits to the South China Sea are just an attempt to express their principled position on this issue,” Godovanyuk said.
She added that while the US views China as an across-the-board rival, Britain’s position is two-pronged. On the one hand it declares a “golden era” in bilateral relations while on the other it needs to offset China’s influence in the region by acting in concert with its Japanese, Australian and US allies,” she continued.
The expert described the first British-Japanese naval exercises in Northeast Asia scheduled for December as an attempt to create a kind of competition for the US at sea. Britain, most likely, wants to play a role on the high seas, similar or even bigger than that of the US.