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South China Sea: Beijing warns of ’hostile action’ as Europe sends warships to the region

China hit back at the news of the European nations ordering key ships in their fleets to sail to the disputed sea area. Major General Su Guanghui, China’s defence attaché to Britain last week said: “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 Nine Dash Line encompasses most of the oil rich South China Sea, which China has belligerently claimed for itself.

This claim has infuriated neighbouring countries like The Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei.

Frans-Paul van der Putten, a senior research fellow at the Clingendael Institute, an independent think tank in the Netherlands said: “Until a few years ago, European countries preferred to keep a low profile on regional security issues in East Asia, but under the present circumstances there is a new urgency to be involved.

“Sending warships to the South China Sea can provide European governments with more leverage when it comes to dealing with the US and China on geopolitical matters closer to home.

Paul van der Putten’s assessment comes after Britain, France and Germany said in a joint statement late last month that they were “concerned about the situation in the South China Sea, which could lead to insecurity and tension in the region”.

They also appealed to all parties involved in territorial disputes in the waters to “take steps and measures that reduce tensions, and contribute to maintaining and promoting peace, security, stability and safety in the region”.

China, which claims most of the South China Sea as its sovereign territory, is engaged in multiple disputes with its neighbours, including Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei.

While the United States is not a claimant, it regards the area as part of its Indo-Pacific strategy to contain China’s military expansion in the Pacific and Indian oceans.

In an apparent show of strength and unity, the US and Britain conducted a joint naval drill in the South China Sea in February, while France sailed its naval assault ship Dixmude and a frigate close to the disputed Spratly Islands last year.

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Britain is keen to assert freedom of navigation through international waters and alongside its US and Australian allies has been forthright in defending such actions against an increasingly belligerent China.

The Nine Dash Line is at the heart of the South China Sea dispute, Beijing’s claim that encircles as much as 90 per cent of the ­contested waters.

The line runs thousands of miles south from the Chinese mainland to within a few hundred miles of the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam.

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Beijing maintains it owns any land or features contained within the line, which confers vaguely defined “historical maritime rights”.

The South China Sea Arbitration, was an arbitration case brought by the Republic of the Philippines against the People’s Republic of China to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea at The Hague.

On 12 July 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in favour of the Philippines.

The tribunal also ruled that China has “no historical rights” based on the “nine-dash line” map.

China has rejected the ruling, as has Taiwan.

In its submissions, Manila argues the line exceeds the limits of maritime entitlements permitted under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The Nine Dash Line first appeared on a Chinese map as an 11-dash line in 1947 as the then Republic of China’s navy took control of some islands in the South China Sea that had been ­occupied by Japan during the second world war.

After the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949 and Kuomintang forces fled to Taiwan, the communist government declared itself the sole ­legitimate representative of China and inherited all the nation’s maritime claims in the region.

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