Beijing has hit back at Britain’s plan to dispatch a warship to the South China Sea, which has long been at the center of a dispute between China and its neighbors, warning the outsiders against “stirring up trouble” in the region.
At a daily briefing on Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the recent remarks made by countries outside of the region were aimed at hyping up tensions in the South China Sea.
“While countries in the region are working together to promote peace, stability and prosperity, some countries outside the region are stirring up trouble,” Lu said.
“Whatever their excuses are, all countries and people in the region should be on the alert, considering the chaos and humanitarian disasters these countries have caused throughout history by interfering with other countries’ affairs,” he added.
The Chinese official made the remarks after British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon told Reuters that the UK aims to send a warship to the South China Sea in 2018 to conduct what he called freedom of navigation exercises.
“We have the right of freedom of navigation and we will exercise it … We flew RAF Typhoons through the South China Sea last October and we will exercise that right whenever we next have the opportunity to do so, whenever we have ships or planes in the region,” he said, adding, “We won’t be constrained by China from sailing through” the sea.
In similar remarks, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said during a meeting in Australia a day earlier that his country planned to sail two new aircraft carriers through the contested Asian waters “on a freedom of navigation operation.”
China claims the entire South China Sea, where its neighbors Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have similar sovereignty claims.
The UK’s apparent attempt to wade in the territorial row comes as China has repeatedly censured the United States for interventionism and siding with Beijing’s rivals in the region.
Washington’s military presence in the disputed waters has long been a source of concern for China’s leadership, which has on numerous occasions warned the US against any such activities there.
Earlier this month, the US also sent two bombers over the region, coming just a few months after it sent a warship to carry out a maneuvering drill within 12 nautical miles of one of China's artificial islands.
The South China Sea hosts one of the world’s busiest waterways and is believed to be rich in mineral and gas deposits and fishing grounds. The neighboring countries have long disputed the ownership of the territories in the water body, through which about $5 trillion of global sea-borne trade passes each year.
Beijing claims sovereignty to all the contested sea, including waters and rocks close to the shores of neighbors, and has been building artificial islands and installing military equipment on them, including on some reefs in the Spratly chain, which are also claimed by Manila.
‘Show of goodwill to US’
Covering the latest remarks by UK officials on Friday, the Global Times, a Chinese daily reflecting the views of the government, conducted an interview with Zhao Junjie, a researcher of the Institute of European Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, on the true motive behind London’s planned deployment.
The researcher said “Britain’s move aims to show goodwill to the US - it is cooperating with the US on the South China Sea issue to contain China.”
With Britain’s imminent exit from the European Union, Zhao said, London is now seeking to win Washington’s “economic and political support.”
He described such a deployment as “unwise,” saying the UK is trying in vain to revive its old glory as Great Britain.
“It wants to show the world that it has decision-making power and is stronger and more powerful after Brexit, but its decline cannot be concealed,” Zhao said.
He added the UK’s plan would “damage relations with China” as Beijing may take “countermeasures,” including “shifting more of its investment to the EU.”
“Britain is at a crucial stage in the Brexit process. It should try to win as much support from China, Russia and other powers, instead of alienating them,” the researcher said.