It seems that after India, Britain has now come in the firing line of the hawkish Chinese state media. The reason is another territorial dispute – the South China Sea – where China is flexing its muscles, like it’s trying to do with India in the Doklam dispute.
Britain has announced it will send its two aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth – the largest in the British fleet – and HMS Prince of Wales to the South China Sea. It does so in solidarity with the international community’s pledge to ensure freedom in navigation operations in international waters, and to counter China’s attempts to dominate the area by building artificial islands and militarising it with warships and fighter jets.
An editorial in the official Chinese publication Global Times, which regularly threatens India of war over the India-China Doklam plateau border standoff, has warned Britain that sending warships to the South China Sea would be a provocation that would force China to take retaliatory measures.
Questioning the British motive behind the move, the editorial says “it is no longer 1840 and there are no longer any British colonies in East Asia” and that Britain has wrongly taken this decision under Australian and American influence. It describes the “US as a police officer, Australia as its assistant and the UK as its accomplice.”
‘BREXIT WEAKENING BRITAIN’S INFLUENCE’
The editorial says in a patronizing tone that Britain needs to maintain its self-esteem and should not allow itself to “be stupidly dragged back to Asia,” which will only disgrace and humiliate it.
Brexit has been ill-quoted as an example of Britain’s waning influence by the editorial here to justify its arguments. “Brexit is weakening Britain’s influence, and it appears that the country needs to do something to assert its sense of identity.”
The editorial continues to berate Britain as a much weaker country that cannot afford a “new Opium War with China off the China coast,” while aggrandising China’s military prowess that it says has changed the balance of power around the globe.
‘AUSTRALIA CAN ONLY BARK’
Blaming Australia for lobbying hard to instigate Britain, the editorial says Australia “can only bark” and if Britain follows suit, its stature will reduced to “being an accomplice or a dupe.” Canberra has traditionally maintained that China mustn’t build artificial islands in the South China Sea or militarise it.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson revealed his country’s plans to send warships to the South China Sea during his meeting with his Australian counterpart Julie Bishop on Thursday. Bishop was recently in India, where she reiterated the traditional Australian stand on the South China Sea dispute.
Australia has indicated that it may join British efforts directed towards ensuring freedom of navigation patrol in the international waters of the South China Sea – a vital trade route for many countries, and the global economy.
In May, during his Australia visit, US Senator John McCain urged Australia and other nations to conduct naval exercises in the South China Sea, to challenge China – which was acting like a bully.
The territorial dispute in the South China Sea involves seven countries – China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. A busy trade route passes through it and all other countries except China are in favour of keeping its status as free, international waters.
China wants to control it as it imports most of its oil through this trade route and has built artificial islands in the sea. Doing so would enable China to establish hegemony in East and Southeast Asia. As well, it would keep foreign military forces like the US away from the region.
The US Navy has a sizeable presence in the South China Sea and it routinely carries out patrols in the area to deter the Chinese efforts, maintaining that the South China Sea waters must remain free for international navigation. China doesn’t recognize these claims – including the United Nations Convention on Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS) which has invalidated the Chinese claims on the South China Sea – and says China has controlled these areas since ancient times and if there’s any dispute, it should be resolved by the concerned nations through bilateral discussions.