'Washington's sharksucker': Chinese media fires at Britain over South China Sea

China Daily decries ‘reckless actions’ after HMS Albion sails close to disputed Paracel islands

The United Kingdom should “refrain from being Washington’s sharksucker”, according to a state-run Chinese newspaper, after British warship sailed through contested waters in the South China Sea.

The HMS Albion, a 22,000 ton amphibious warship carrying a contingent of Royal Marines, passed by the Paracel Islands in late August on its way from Japan to Vietnam. China dispatched a frigate and two helicopters to challenge the vessel. Beijing claims nearly all of the disputed South China Sea, waters also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Military vessels, most notably from the US, have occasionally sailed close to contested islands as part of “freedom of navigation exercises”, and American officials have encouraged more countries to join the effort.

In an editorial titled “UK should try to have more than one friend”, the state-run China Daily said the UK risked undermining the possibility of a “top notch” post-Brexit free trade deal, a key component of London’s strategy after leaving the European Union.

“China and the UK had agreed to actively explore the possibility of discussing a free trade agreement after Brexit, but any act that harms China’s core interests will only put a spanner in the works,” the paper said.

Any trade deal would have to wait until the UK formally leaves the EU sometime next year, and negotiations could drag on for years.

The UK was “eager to seize whatever opportunity it can to get into Washington’s good books”, the editorial said, adding: “The reckless actions by the British navy to challenge China’s sovereignty can only be explained by the country wanting to curry favor with the United States”.

In response to the Albion’s actions, China has made an official protest to the British government, according to the foreign ministry.

“China strongly urges Britain to stop this kind of provocation lest it should undermine the overall picture of bilateral ties as well as regional peace and stability,” said Hua Chunying, a foreign ministry spokesperson. “We have lodged stern representations with the British side and expressed our strong dissatisfaction.”

About $3 trillion of shipborne trade passes through the South China Sea each year, and China has been fortifying islands it controls, which some experts have called “unsinkable aircraft carriers”. China built about 29 hectares (290,000 square metres) of new facilities on contested islands last year, including munitions depots, sensor arrays, radar systems and missile shelters.


Benjamin Haas in Seoul

The GuardianTramp

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