Friday, February 16, 2018

The Long Way Home

The South China Sea will be hosting a new warship in March. Britain has announced the plans to sail a warship through the disputed waters next month. The Royal Navy Type 23 frigate HMS Sutherland will voyage through the South China Sea while returning from Australia. British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson confirmed these claims on Tuesday. He stated the Sutherland will be traversing the waters as an act of asserting their freedom of navigation. This is not the first time the UK has made these claims. Last year Michael Fallon (former Defense Secretary) stated the UK will not be intimidated from sailing through the South China Sea. It is unclear how close the ship will sail near disputed land, but it is clear the UK supports the United States presence in the region.

Numerous claims have come out condemning the statement the UK has made. Chinese media outlets are calling it a political stunt; a way for the UK to reclaim a place on the global stage. Statements were made using derogatory language to undermine the British plan. Chinese writers even stated the journey may be too difficult for the British Royal Navy considering their recent struggles, which include budget cuts as well as an aircraft carrier with a leak.

Perhaps this is a strategic move to show the UK’s right to navigate these waters. British officials, among others, are calling this a freedom of navigation (FON) operation. Perhaps the Chinese see it for what it really is, a political move to put Britain back in the headlines of global, international news. Skeptics wonder if this could be a play for the long run. Britain will be leaving the European Union next year and will be in search of potential partners in the future. It is no secret that China has lent their ear to British officials for discussion on this matter. China is a very possible trade partner for the British going forward. In fact, earlier this month Prime Minister Theresa May visited the nation. British international trade secretary, Liam Fox, publicly stated that people should pay attention to May on the world stage.

The true motives for the non-traditional passage of the South China Sea by the HMS Sutherland remains unclear. Whether it is a tactic fueled by military strategy, political notoriety, or a combination of the two is of little importance. The importance, and the fact, is that next month a British warship will be navigating the highly disputed waters regardless of what critics and naysayers may think. This leaves us with a number of questions, will this inspire other nations to practice FON operations, will the plan be a waste of time and resources, will the UK gain more international media attention? Only time will tell what impact this may have on the “big picture” and whether or not taking the long way home will be truly worth it.

Image Credit: BBC

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