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South China Sea panic: UK ‘can wage havoc’ in region as Beijing issued threat

Bill Hayton discusses economic impact of South China Sea tensions

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The largest vessel ever created for the Royal Navy, HMS Queen Elizabeth, last month entered the controversial South China Sea waters, causing anger from Beijing. The ship, which can carry up to 40 aircraft, led a flotilla of ships in the disputed region, which China claims sovereignty over. The move came at a time when the Government in Britain was setting out ways to remove Beijing state-owned nuclear energy companies from its power projects.

Both aspects saw China-UK relations take a nosedive, and led Wu Shicun, president of China’s National Institute for South China Sea Studies, to condemn Britain.

In a statement, Mr Shicun said that “China receives friends with good wine and deals with wolves with a shotgun”, in a clear warning to the UK.

Of HMS Queen Elizabeth’s arrival in the South China Sea, Mr Shicun added: “Exercising ‘freedom of navigation’ should not be the purpose of this aircraft carrier, which travelled thousands of miles to be here.”

This was the latest in a series of disputes between Beijing and the UK, as the two nations have previously rowed over Hong Kong’s national security law, as well as reported human rights abuses against China’s Uygur Muslims.

But in a warning shot to China, Long Jing, a European affairs specialist from the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, argued the UK had enough power, and allies, to cause damage if ordered to.

She said: “Britain has many resources, such as the Commonwealth of Nations and the Five Eyes alliance, to achieve its goals, so it can wage real havoc if its actions are underestimated.”

The Five Eyes alliance sees the likes of the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand share intelligence.

It was came around as a result of the Cold War.

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Ms Jing added that because the UK was “a very pragmatic country, it would pursue the best of its national interests and adjust its approach to China when the US-China relations become more stable”.

The Royal Navy’s super vessel was joining up with the Indian Navy, in its yearly Konkan exercise, and came at a time when the UK announced plans to keep two patrol ships in the Indo-Pacific.

The UK was also plotting to cut China General Nuclear Power Group out of all of its future energy projects.

In July, China’s London embassy, announced it would oppose such a plan, adding: “Cooperation between China and the UK on nuclear energy is mutually beneficial.

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“If such cooperation is to be suspended under duress, this will be against the UK’s interest in terms of benefiting from China’s advanced technology and capital investment, developing clean energy to achieve its planned carbon neutrality goal and proving itself to be a credible global partner.”

Earlier this year, the likes of Japan declared its support for more European influence in the South, and East, China Sea.

Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi spoke of how the situation in the region had deteriorated, and noted the security challenges being posed over the seas.

He added: “We welcome the growing interest in the Indo-Pacific in Europe.”

German officials confirmed it would follow rules imposed on China and other rival nations, by not passing within the 12-nautical-mile limits set down.

Fears of conflict between the nations persist, with major players in the waters ramping up their military presence.

Experts such as Professor Oriana Skylar Mastro, from Georgetown University, are concerned that the heightened military power in the region will one day lead to accidental conflict.

She told the Council of Foreign Relations this year: “I think there are some factors that show if China cannot achieve its goals, de facto control of the South China waters, it could escalate.

“The US could act more assertively, leading to aggression on the part of China.

“It’s possible that China will come to the conclusion that the diplomatic way of dealing with the situation isn’t working.

“Couple that with new power projection capabilities, military power for the first time… lastly, you could see China taking military action, such as seizing islands of kinetic action against US vessels in the South China Sea waters.”

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