The Strategist

Europe to restrain China in the South China Sea

06/06/2018 - 16:47

Europe is entering a struggle for domination in the South China Sea. France and the United Kingdom have declared their commitment to preventing domination of any one country, namely China, in an important maritime region through which goods worth more than $ 5 trillion are transported, the Asia Times writes.

Ben A. Gonzales
Ben A. Gonzales
Both European powers are expected to carry out regular patrols in the area in order to ensure freedom of navigation.

As permanent members of the UN Security Council and nuclear powers, France and the UK can play a significant role in the ongoing efforts to contain China's activity.

France and Britain have significant trade interests in this region due to actively developing trade relations with the former colonies in Asia.

For a long time, the US has been trying to contain China's naval ambitions. For the past four years, the US Navy has been carrying out so-called operations to ensure freedom of navigation in the South China Sea (FONOP), challenging China's large-scale territorial claims and expanding its military presence in the area.

However, naval patrols and operations, apparently, were not sufficient to contain China. Beijing pointed to the US FONOP as a provocation that justifies its recent steps to strengthen its positions in the maritime zone.

As reported earlier, China is stepping up construction of military facilities on islands and reefs in the disputed South China Sea.

China has territorial claims in the South China Sea along with the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei. For decades, Beijing has been in dispute with the countries of the region about territorial affiliation of a number of islands on the shelf of which significant hydrocarbon reserves have been discovered.

In 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping was reportedly promised to then US President Barack Obama that China would not militarize disputed islands in the South China Sea. However, this promise was violated. Beijing has repeatedly described militarization as "protective" measures against the alleged US aggression.

It is unclear whether the UK and France will be able to provide stronger containment. In her speech at Shangri-La Dialogue, the international conference on security in the Asia-Pacific region, French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly stressed commitment to the security of the South China Sea.

"France does not participate in territorial disputes in this region and will not, but we insist on two principles of a rule-based international order: disputes must be resolved by legal means and through negotiations, and not by the policy of fait accompli, and freedom of navigation should be maintained," - Parley said.

"We believe that countries should follow agreed rules, but some ignore them, and this undermines the peace and prosperity of all nations," British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson said, indirectly accusing China. "We must make it clear that countries should play by the rules and that violation of the rules will have consequences."