The United Kingdom has invoked its “duty” to observe international law and the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea amid reports that it is preparing to deploy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth to sail in the contested waters.
“We do feel very strongly and our Minister articulated this again recently that we all have a duty to observe international law, in this case obviously, the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea), and in principle the freedom of navigation and freedom of flights, as well,” British Ambassador to the Philippines Daniel Pruce told reporters on Wednesday, February 24, 2021.
HMS Queen Elizabeth is an aircraft carrier that is the fleet flagship of the British Royal Navy.
Even as the UK government repeatedly claims that it does not take sides in the South China Sea disputes, Pruce has urged all claimant parties to engage in “peaceful and legal mechanisms” so as not to exacerbate the situation.
An estimated US$5.3 trillion worth of trade passes through the South China Sea waters every year. Aside from China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, and Taiwan have conflicting claims in one of the world’s busiest trade routes.
“UK doesn’t take sides in relation to the range of disputes relevant to the South China Sea and extending beyond the Philippines. We encourage all parties to settle all their disputes peacefully and to do so in existing legal mechanisms,” he said.
The British diplomat maintained that all parties should refrain from any activity which will raise tensions such as land reclamation, militarization, construction, among others.
“It’s really important that people exercise restraint and also important that they behave responsibly. All of these are guided by international obligations… all in the international legal frame,” Pruce said.
Beijing has recently warned that it would carry out “necessary measures to safeguard its sovereignty” amid reports that the HMS Queen Elizabeth will sail in the South China Sea to be escorted by two Type 45 destroyers, two Type 23 frigates, a nuclear submarine, a Tide-class tanker, and RFA Fort Victoria.
In July 2016, the Arbitral Tribunal in The Hague has ruled in favor of the Philippine petition to invalidate China’s excessive nine-dash line claim in the South China Sea. China refuses to honor the international court’s ruling to this date.