Chinese newspaper warns UK after warship sail-by

‘ECONOMIC LIFELINE’::The ‘China Daily’ said that Britain was putting a post-Brexit free-trade agreement with China at risk by trying to ‘curry favor’ with Washington


Sat, Sep 08, 2018 - Page 6

Britain could have hurt its chances of sealing a post-Brexit free-trade deal with China, a major Chinese state-run newspaper said yesterday after a British Royal Navy warship sailed close to islands in the South China Sea claimed by China.

China and Britain last month agreed to look at the possibility of reaching a “top-notch” post-Brexit free-trade deal that, if struck, would be an important political win for Britain’s Conservative government.

“China and the UK had agreed to actively explore the possibility of discussing a free-trade agreement after Brexit. Any act that harms China’s core interests will only put a spanner in the works,” the state-run China Daily said in an editorial.

Britain has long courted China for a post-Brexit trade deal and talked up a “golden era” in ties, although any formal talks could not begin until Britain officially leaves the EU next year and typically take many years to conclude.

The HMS Albion, a 19,560-tonne amphibious warship, sailed near the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島) claimed by China last month, Reuters reported on Thursday, prompting an angry reaction from China, which called it a “provocation.”

The Paracels are occupied entirely by China, but also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam.

China’s claims in the South China Sea, through which about US$3 trillion of shipborne trade passes each year, are contested by Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Britain does not have any territorial claims in the area.

The China Daily said Britain was trying to “curry favor” with the US, which has been pushing for more international participation in freedom of navigation operations in the strategic waterway.

“Now that it is eyeing the US as an economic lifeline after it exits the European Union — the United Kingdom is no doubt eager to seize whatever opportunity it can to get into Washington’s good books,” the English-language newspaper said.

The Chinese Ministry of National Defense said in a statement responding to the Royal Navy action that, with the joint efforts of China and Southeast Asian countries, the situation in the South China Sea had stabilized.

“Certain countries from outside the region pay no heed to this, and send military ships and aircraft to the South China Sea to foment trouble, creating problems where none exist, threatening regional peace and stability,” it said.

China has repeatedly denounced what it views as interference from “countries outside the region,” generally a message to the US and its allies to stay out of the maritime dispute.

Adding to the tension, the ministry late on Thursday said Britain should stop “gesticulating” about the former British colony of Hong Kong and interfering in China’s internal affairs, after Britain issued its latest six-monthly report on the territory.

In it, British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Jeremy Hunt said there was “growing concern about the extent of freedom of speech in Hong Kong, particularly in the context of discussion of independence,” adding that Britain does not think independence is a realistic or desirable option.

China said the issue of independence had nothing to do with freedom of speech and was a serious violation of China’s constitution and Hong Kong law.

“It fundamentally is not within the scope of freedom of expression,” the ministry said. “The central government has zero tolerance for ‘Hong Kong independence’ and will never indulge it.”