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Europe seeks ‘leverage’ in South China Sea – sends in warships as Beijing warns of ‘hostile action’

TENSIONS are rising in the South China Sea region now that three new ingredients have been added to this brewing soup that may bring it to the boil.

France, Germany and Britain have all said they would join the United States in sending warships to the disputed region in order to protect sovereign waters from the encroaching geo-political ambitions of China.

To which Major General Su Guanghui, China’s defence attaché to Britain last week said: “If the US and UK join hands in a challenge or violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China, that would be a hostile action.”

Frans-Paul van der Putten, a senior research fellow at the Clingendael Institute, an independent think tank in the Netherlands said: “Until a few years ago, European countries preferred to keep a low profile on regional security issues in East Asia, but under the present circumstances there is a new urgency to be involved.

“Sending warships to the South China Sea can provide European governments with more leverage when it comes to dealing with the US and China on geopolitical matters closer to home.

China is involved in disputes over territory with its neighbours, Malaysia , Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei.

Much of the area has natural gas and oil reserves below the sea bed and China are determined to exploit these resources.

Another reason for China to invest so much in this region, such as building artificial militarised islands is to ensure its sea routes from the Indian Ocean are secured.

The US does not claim any of the territories in the region but it has an eye on protecting trade routes and it is in its long term Indo-Pacific strategy plan.

Britain has conducted joint military naval drills with the US in the region, while France has sent a frigate called Dixmude.

The Spratly Islands are becoming a zone of concentrated military power from China as they hope to claim this sea zone.

The Spratly Islands are within the contentious Nine-Dash Line drawn by China over the region, a huge area of the South china Sea that the adjacent countries say is their territory.

The UK has set itself a role of trying to ensure freedom of navigation throughout the area.

It is backed in its mission by the US and Australia.

Britain plans to send its new aircraft carrier to the region, called HMS Queen Elizabeth.

This will be the ship’s first deployment when it goes into service in 2021.

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