Navy warship to sail through disputed sea

Duterte warns he'll order navy to fire if sea wealth taken

British Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has confirmed the HMS Sutherland, a Type 23 frigate of the British Royal Navy, will enter the waters as a defiant means of demonstrating that the sea is worldwide.

'She'll be sailing through the South China Sea (on the way home) and making it clear our navy has a right to do that, ' Mr Williamson told The Australian newspaper after a two-day visit to Sydney and Canberra.

China claims almost all of the resource-rich waterway and has been turning reefs and islets into islands and installing military facilities such as runways and equipment on them.

He said: "World dynamics are shifting so greatly".

"China is playing it right at this time", Duterte said, adding that China's actions are influenced by its rivalry with the USA for superpower status and that the Philippines "will not get involved in that".

Forming an agreement for a joint project would be extremely complex and sensitive as both countries claim jurisdiction of the site of the oil and gas reserves, so sharing them could be deemed legitimizing the other side's claim, or even ceding sovereign territory. "This is a great opportunity for the United Kingdom and Australia to do more, to exercise leadership".

'Australia and Britain see China as a country of great opportunities, but we shouldn't be blind to the ambition that China has and we've got to defend our national security interests, ' he said.

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Benham Rise lies on the other side of the Philippine archipelago from where Manila, Beijing and four other governments have been locked for decades in territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Collin Koh, a military expert with the maritime security programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said the J-20 and Su-35 jets could potentially be used in a number of flashpoints in the region, including on the Indian border, the Taiwan Strait and the East and South China seas.

Duterte, who has revived ties and sought Chinese investments and infrastructure funding after rising to power in 2016, said Chinese officials have assured him China will no longer undertake constructions in the Spratlys. "It's against the principles Western liberal democracies hold dear - free speech, free thought", he said. China offers great opportunities but it provides great challenges as well. "I think we have to work hard to keep the Americans engaged and to build relations with Japan and India to counterbalance China's rise".

It's yet to be seen whether the HMS Sutherland will provoke a response from China, but recent history suggests it's likely.

Maintaining the spirit of their first consultation in Guiyang, China in May 2017, representatives of China and the Philippines on Tuesday agreed to promote peace and stability in the region, and reaffirmed the importance of keeping the policy of freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea.

Beijing has continued to extend its borders in the South China Sea in the face of worldwide condemnation.

The media outlet said "China must take revenge and let it [Australia] know it's wrong".

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