Published: Thu, February 15, 2018
World | By Melba Underwood

British Defence Secretary warns Australia to remain vigilant to China intent

British Defence Secretary warns Australia to remain vigilant to China intent

"On the contrary, we are not only exerting efforts but also getting things done", Cayetano said.

The region is under dispute chiefly because of China, which is trying to extend its territorial limits (and thus the area it can directly control) by building artificial islands to embiggen its borders.

The widely read state-run tabloid Global Times said Mr Williamson needed to state clearly the objective of the mission.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano on Wednesday said Manila affirmed its stance on the maritime dispute during Tuesday's meeting, the second round of the Philippines-China Bilateral Consultation.

According to British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson, the HMS Sutherland, an anti-submarine frigate, will arrive in Australia this week, and it will sail from Australia to the South China Sea.

"But ... there's a much higher chance that they prefer to sit out from doing FONOPs and poking China right in the eye", he said. U.S. ships have made such freedom of navigation operations, which routinely draw protests from Beijing.

He said: "I think we've always got to be vigilant to any form of malign intent".

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The Philippine president says he has no intention of going to war over territorial feuds but will order the navy to fire if other countries extract resources from waters in his country's exclusive economic zone.

Professor Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at London's School of Oriental and African Studies, told The Independent he believed Mr Williamson's announcement of the Sutherland's planned mission was indicated the United Kingdom backed the US' approach, and it was "reasonable to assume" the Defence Secretary had Britain's special relation in mind when he made it. "The effect would have been the same in so far as the exercising of the freedom of navigation right is concerned", he added. British Prime Minister Theresa May ended a largely successful trip to China earlier this month.

Beijing has continued to extend its borders in the South China Sea in the face of worldwide condemnation.

What is less well known is that the United Kingdom has signed up to do that exact thing on new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth's first operational deployment in 2021.

The two sides initiated regular consultations past year even as Beijing continued to ignore an global tribunal's July 2016 ruling that invalidated its claim over almost all of South China Sea, acting on a Philippine case initiated under the Aquino administration.

But it has no doubt been given fresh impetus over the past couple of years, with the Duterte government looking to manage the issue as part of a broader warming of ties with China and Beijing looking to reciprocate while also continuing its broader assertiveness in the South China Sea while trumpeting a so-called "cooling down" period (See: "The Limits of Duterte's China-US Rebalance").

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