Navy set to raise anchor in 1997

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 October, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 October, 1994, 12:00am

THE Royal Navy has no intention of retaining a presence in Hong Kong after 1997 but hopes it will be allowed to come and visit, according to the Ministry of Defence.

Britain intends to concentrate what naval activities it has in the region, and they are not heavy, in Singapore.

There the Ministry of Defence owns naval berthing space and could technically use Singapore as a base under the Five Power Defence Agreement signed in 1971 between Britain, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand. The Royal Navy does not base vessels there permanently but sometimes uses Singapore for maintenance work.

The agreement was drawn up aimed at the defence of Malaysia and Singapore in case they were threatened by other regional powers - with the unstated but implicit names of China and India filling that role.

Under the agreement there are regular joint exercises. The destroyer HMS Cardiff has just finished one exercise in Singapore and is now heading for Colombo, Sri Lanka. It was joined by other British contingents, including an RAF presence, the submarine HMS Splendid and other 'advisers' - often a euphemism for special forces.

But Britain's wider naval presence in the region is minimal and more often than not linked to arms sales tours. These only take place every few years. The last, made up of four major warships and two suppliers, was Orient 92 with earlier tours entitled Outback 88 and Global 86. There has really been no limit to the ports they have called at in the past. Royal Navy vessels have visited Chinese ports as parts of the tours along with Thailand and Indonesia.