Britain trying to headline grab in South China Sea, says state media

Filipinos protest China's build up in disputed sea

China claims most of the South China Sea, where $3 billion in sea-borne trade pass every year, and has competing claims in various parts of it with Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam, and the Philippines.

"We've got HMS Sutherland now approaching Australia and after she's been to Australia, she'll be going through the South China Sea", UK's Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson told the Australian.

The Defence Secretary also warned that Australia needs to remain vigilant over China's rise.

Other advances also look more modest than they are being portrayed in some media accounts. "What they'll do, at best, is make more regular forays in the region, doing port calls and engaging in more joint training and exercises to make [their] presence felt and to show support in such manner". Most notably, with China's militarization of the South China Sea showing no signs of stopping, the Duterte government will continue to face global and domestic scrutiny as it seeks to warm ties with Beijing, making any significant advances on the South China Sea more hard.

Donald Trump has been outspoken in his past criticism of China, and earlier this month nominated Admiral Harry Harris, the head of US Pacific Command, as ambassador to Australia.

As I have noted repeatedly before in these pages, the idea of some sort of Sino-Philippine deal on the South China Sea - be it understandings to deescalate tensions temporarily or a proposals to jointly explore and exploit resources - is not new and has in fact been discussed in some form or another since the 1980s (See: "Beware the New China-Philippines South China Sea Deal"). "It's against the principles Western liberal democracies hold dear - free speech, free thought", he said.

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

A few months ago, Beijing criticised the Turnbull government for raising concerns about the "pace and scale" of China's developments in the region.

"All countries in accordance with worldwide law enjoy freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea".

This declaration was issued by both parties during the Second Meeting of the Philippines-China Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM) on the South China Sea hosted by Manila Tuesday.

Likewise in 2016, the Communist Party's mouthpiece The Global Times launched a scathing attack on the Australian government, following its decision to support an worldwide tribunal over the South China Sea.

A second bilateral meeting between China and the Philippines on their territorial dispute in the South China Sea appears to have centered on cooperation rather than on competition, according to a joint press statement Tuesday night.

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