|Great Britain will send a warship through the disputed waters of the South China Sea next month to assert freedom of navigation rights, U.K. Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson said.
HMS Sutherland, an anti-submarine frigate, will arrive in Australia later this week and travel through the South China Sea on its way back to Britain, Williamson said.
“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 The Australian newspaper.
China has become angered in the past when the U.S. performs Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOP) in the South China Sea, as China claims that the contested islands there are its own.
The contested islands are claimed by various countries, and China does not own them. Other nations, including Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam, also stake claims to the contested waters. However, China has lashed out after the United States performs FONOPs in the South China Sea, saying they are military provocation.
The last American FONOP exercise in August came during a time when tensions were running high in the world regarding North Korea, given Kim Jong Un’s latest threat to bomb Guam, a U.S. territory, and its two tests in July of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The United States would seek China’s cooperation against North Korea.
Williamson did not mention if the British ship would sail within 12 nautical miles of Chinese territory or artificial islands, similar to what the Unites States has done in the past.
“We absolutely support the U.S. approach on this, we very much support what the US has been doing,” he said.
“The U.S. is looking for other countries to do more,” he added. “This is a great opportunity for the U.K. and Australia to do more, to exercise leadership.”