Britain, France to sail South China Sea in challenge to China

France signaled readiness for a military encounter with the Chinese navy during remarks from the French defense minister at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.

French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly listens to British Secretary of State for Defense Gavin Williamson during International Institute for Strategic Studies' Asia Security Summit in Singapore, or the Shangri-La Dialogue, on Sunday. Photo by Wallace Woon/EPA-EFE
French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly listens to British Secretary of State for Defense Gavin Williamson during International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Asia Security Summit in Singapore, or the Shangri-La Dialogue, on Sunday. Photo by Wallace Woon/EPA-EFE

Defense Minister Florence Parly said Sunday rules-based international order must prevail in the South China Sea, in a speech that may have been directed at China, the Straits Times reported.

Parly and her British counterpart Gavin Williamson said they plan to sail their warships across the South China Sea to demonstrate their right to traverse international waters, the South China Morning Post reported Monday.

China has unilaterally claimed most of the waters as part of its maritime territory by its own definition of a “Nine-Dash Line” around most of the South China Sea.

The joint deployment of French and British maritime forces will depart from Singapore next week, then travel to “certain areas” of the high seas, Parly said.

“At some point a stern voice intrudes into the transponder and tells us to sail away from supposedly ‘territorial waters’,” she said, describing a potential encounter. “But our commander then calmly replies that he will sail forth, because these, under international law, are indeed international waters.”

China’s vice president of the Academy of Military Science, Lt. Gen. He Lei said violation of China’s sovereignty will not be allowed, and Senior Col. Zhou Bo of Beijing’s defense ministry said the limit is 12 nautical miles from Chinese-controlled isles and reefs, including the disputed Spratly and Paracel Islands.

The joint decision comes after the United States issued a warning on Chinese militarization in the high seas.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said Saturday militarization would face “much larger consequences.”

By Elizabeth Shim