One of the key motivations for Beijing in its audacious water claims is the lucrative shipping lanes and trading ports that make up the South China Sea, provoking President Xi Jinping to enforce a controversial Nine-Dash Line demarcation of what China deems to be its territory. This has sparked fury not just from Asian neighbours, but also other economies around the world as the South China Sea has emerged as a hugely important trading area where activities affect trade all over the world.
And the UK is one of those countries. A notable 12 percent of British trade passes through the South China Sea each year.
Maritime shipping is nine percent of global trade according to the same figures and given the region’s growing importance an increase is likely.
James Rogers, a security expert at the Henry Jackson Society, told Express.co.uk that Britain, along with other major powers, must stop Chinese dominance in the region, otherwise success could embolden China make similar claims elsewhere in the world.
He said: “If other countries accept China’s claims, even with the US challenging, it doesn’t mean anything. Because the Chinese in a way still win.
“But if the UK, France, Japan or Australia do not enter those zones, it means China will assert command over the South China Sea.
“We have to challenge those claims because we have to uphold international law. It could be the South China Sea today, but someone else tomorrow that the Chinese take advantage of.”
Mr Rogers also said the UK should therefore take more interest in the South China Sea and stand up to Beijing who are not as dominant as perhaps many think.
Mr Rogers said: “The UK should take a greater interest in the region for economic and strategic reasons. This means we must step up our naval presence.
“Some of the UK’s closest allies and partners – the US, Australia and Japan – have pervasive interest in the region.
“If we want American support in Europe, we need to assist the US in the Indo-Pacific, particularly in challenging China’s illegal claims in the South China Sea.
“We should not conduct our foreign policy based on what China wants. As we are one of the world’s largest markets and importers, China is in part dependent on us for selling its goods.
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“The relationship is not asymmetric: China needs British know-how and investment to develop. We must never lose sight of that fact, or allow Beijing to shape discourse to encourage us into thinking it.”
In September 2018, a Chinese state-run newspaper accused Britain of “provocation” after it sent a warship through hotly contested archipelagos in the South China Sea.
The editorial also threatened that the move could hinder the UK’s hopes of a trade deal with China post-Brexit.
The newspaper article said: “China and the UK had agreed to actively explore the possibility of discussing a free-trade agreement after Brexit. Any act that harms China’s core interests will only put a spanner in the works.”
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