Foreign warships in South China Sea ‘causing trouble’, Beijing’s ambassador to Britain says

Freedom of navigation ‘not a licence to do whatever one wishes’, Liu Xiaoming tells diplomats in London

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 September, 2018, 3:12pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 September, 2018, 10:38pm

Big countries from outside the region are abusing their freedom of navigation rights and causing trouble in the South China Sea, Beijing’s ambassador to Britain said, in a clear jab at Western nations’ recent operations in the disputed waterway.

Speaking in London on Wednesday at the annual Induction Programme for Commonwealth Diplomats organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat, Liu Xiaoming said that the progress made by China and Asean (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) in formulating a code of conduct in the South China Sea showed that countries in the region had the confidence and capability to resolve disputes.

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“Yet to everyone’s confusion, some big countries outside the region did not seem to appreciate the peace and tranquillity in the South China Sea,” he said. “They sent warships and aircraft all the way to the South China Sea to create trouble.”

His remarks were posted on the website of the Chinese embassy in Britain on Thursday.

The freedom of navigation operations conducted by major powers were “a serious infringement of China’s sovereignty”, and “threatened China’s security and put regional peace and stability in jeopardy”, he said.

Liu’s comments came after the British warship HMS Albion sailed near the disputed Paracel Islands, a group of islands controlled by Beijing in the South China Sea on August 31. The Chinese foreign ministry protested against the move and urged Britain to stop its “provocative actions”.

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Under US President Donald Trump, Washington has increased its freedom of navigation exercises in the waterway, sending warships close to China-controlled islands. It has also called on other powers to join hands in challenging Beijing’s expansion and territorial claims in the disputed region.

Britain and France announced in June they would send warships to Asia to take part in freedom of navigation exercises.

Also, last week, a Japanese attack submarine and three warships took part in exercises in the South China Sea for the first time suggesting Tokyo’s growing concern over Beijing’s expansion of man-made islands and military assets there.

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But, Liu said “freedom of navigation is not a licence to do whatever one wishes”.

“Such ‘freedom’ must be stopped. Otherwise the South China Sea will never be tranquil.”

Liu has frequently used the international media and diplomatic occasions to defend China’s foreign policies, from President Xi Jinping’s flagship “Belt and Road Initiative” to the country’s role in the North Korea nuclear crisis.

The envoy also touched on the escalating trade war between China and the US, saying Beijing would not succumb to pressure, and would continue to be a defender of multilateralism and international rules.