Philippines objects to China's naming of undersea features

Violet Powell
February 15, 2018

He did not specify whether the British ship would sail near Chinese-controlled islands in the area.

The tabloid Global Times newspaper, known for its strident nationalist stance, said Williamson needed to state clearly the objective of the mission.

The first meeting of the Philippines-China BCM on the South China Sea was held in Guiyang, Guizhou Province in China last May 19, 2017. "By acting tough against China, Britain's Ministry of Defense is trying to validate its existence and grab attention".

It also commented on funding problems for the UK's defence, claiming due to a tight budget "it appears a hard mission for the Royal Navy to come all this way to provoke China".

Critics have questioned why President Rodrigo Duterte's administration allowed a group from China to undertake scientific research in the waters given Manila's long-simmering territorial conflict with Beijing in the South China Sea.

Mr Williamson did not say whether Sutherland, a Type 23 frigate, would sail within 12 nautical miles of any of the islands claimed by China.

But he said: 'We absolutely support the United States approach on this, we very much support what the USA has been doing'. Such cruises, known as freedom of navigation operations, have routinely drawn protests from Beijing. The US can only concentrate on so many things at once'.

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He said: "I think we've always got to be vigilant to any form of malign intent".

"A good example is in terms of what you've been looking at in terms of critical national infrastructure. we've always encouraged investment from outside but it's making sure it's for right time of investment and it isn't something that puts our utilities, our critical national infrastructure in a more vulnerable position".

Professor Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at London's School of Oriental and African Studies, told The Independent he believed Mr Williamson's announcement of the Sutherland's planned mission was indicated the United Kingdom backed the US' approach, and it was "reasonable to assume" the Defence Secretary had Britain's special relation in mind when he made it.

In a recent interview with news.com.au, Dr Malcolm Davis, a senior analyst in Defence Strategy and Capability at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, similarly warned that China was "not benevolent".

"So we would like to advise Australia to abide by its commitment and stop making irresponsible remarks on the South China Sea issue".

It's yet to be seen whether the HMS Sutherland will provoke a response from China, but recent history suggests it's likely.

During the meeting, Manila and Beijing agreed to continue discussions on confidence-building measures to increase mutual trust and confidence and to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities in the South China Sea that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability.

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