British warship to sail through disputed South China Sea

TIL Desk/World/Sydney/ A British warship will sail from Australia through the disputed South China Sea next month to assert freedom of navigation rights, a senior official said today in a move likely to irk Beijing. China claims nearly all of the resource-rich waterway and has been turning reefs and islets into islands and installing military facilities such as runways and equipment on them.

British Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said HMS Sutherland, an anti-submarine frigate, would arrive in Australia later this week. “She’ll be sailing through the South China Sea (on the way home) and making it clear our navy has a right to do that,” he told after a two-day visit to Sydney and Canberra.

He would not say whether the frigate would sail within 12 nautical miles of a disputed territory or artificial island built by the Chinese, as US ships have done. But he said: “We absolutely support the US approach on this, we very much support what the US has been doing.”

In January, Beijing said it had dispatched a warship to drive away a US missile destroyer which had “violated” its sovereignty by sailing close to a shoal in the sea. Williamson said it was important that US allies such as Britain and Australia “assert our values” in the South China Sea, which is believed to hold vast oil and gas deposits and through which USD 5.0 trillion in trade passes annually.

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