France and the United Kingdom are sending warships to challenge China’s militarisation of the South China Sea.
French Minister of Armed Forces Florence Parly and British Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson issued a joint statement confirming this move at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.
In a speech at the defence summit, Parly emphasised France’s support for a code of conduct in the disputed waters that would be legally binding, comprehensive, effective and consistent with international law.
“We believe negotiations are the way to go. Meanwhile, we should be clear that the fait accompli is not a fait accepted,” she said.
At least five French warships sailed through the South China Sea last year, according to the French defence minister.
British helicopters and ships joined the French task force and Germans also boarded the French warships as observers during the operations, she added.
“Europeans have started to mobilise more widely in support of this endeavour. I believe we should broaden this effort even further,” she said.
Without specifically mentioning the South China Sea, Williamson warned that “increasingly aggressive states infringing regional access, freedoms and security through coercion” are threatening the rules-based order.
“We believe nations should follow agreed rules but this is being ignored by some and what this does is it undermines peace and prosperity of all nations,” he said.
“We have to make it clear that nations need to play by the rules and that there are consequences for not doing so,” he added.
France and the UK’s commitment is in line with the USA’s plan to ramp up freedom of navigation operations in the region.
The US is reportedly considering a more assertive approach in the region, including longer patrols, more warships and closer surveillance of Chinese bases.
In his speech at the Singapore summit, US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said that Beijing’s policy in the South China Sea “stands in stark contrast to the openness our strategy promotes”.
“China’s militarisation of artificial features in the South China Sea includes the deployment of anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles, electronic jammers and more recently, the landing of bomber aircraft at Woody Island,” he said.
Meanwhile, as we have also reported today, Philippine Defence Secretary Dephin Lorenzano has admitted that his country’s armed forces lack the capacity to challenge Chinese expansionism in the disputed waters.