It follows a new report by the Henry Jackson Society think tank, backed by senior Admirals, which includes the move as part of a seven-point plan to ensure China holds no control over the vital trade route. More than twelve percent of British trade passes through the South China Sea each year, worth £92 billion. In September Britain was accused of “provocation” by Beijing after HMS Albion, an amphibious assault ship which usually carries Royal Marines, was deployed to the South China Sea on a ‘freedom of Navigation” exercise.
The Royal Navy vessel was briefly chased by a Chinese warship and her decks buzzed by low flying Chinese fighter jets as she sailed near the Parcel islands, controlled by China but claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.
The new plan, if adopted, would satisfy US requests for naval support in the region with British vessels, joined by those from Australia, the US and neighbouring countries.
The report’s recommendations include the creation of a Pacific Nato “to deter attacks on smaller countries that seek to uphold the Law of the Sea”; for the Royal Navy to have a permanent facility in Singapore and/or Brunei and investment in new capabilities “to circumvent potential opponents’ increasingly sophisticated anti-access and area-denial systems.”
But it is the multinational task force idea which is proving popular with Royal Navy planners.
Last year’s National Security Review reaffirmed the “Global Britain” aim to champion the world’s rules-based system and to “respond robustly to harm the UK and destabilise the world order”.
Speaking last night one senior defence source said: “As far as we’re concerned, this chimes precisely with HMG’s stated policy on being robust with Freedom of Navigation exercises in the South China Sea.
“The QE will be our proudest naval asset – unmatched by any other country – and part off its remit, once it is operational in 2020, will of course be to represent Global Britain. Being at the centre of a multinational taskforce is one way of achieving this whilst ensuring that a vital trade route remains open and territorial waters are respected.”
Backing the move, Former Admiral of the Fleet Lord Boyce added: “It’s not enough to have multinational forces on one vessel. The key is having many different ensigns belonging to multinational vessels working together.”
Former First Sea Lord Admiral Lord West added: “The illegal activity of the People’s Republic of China in the South China Sea is increasingly dangerous and should not be ignored.
“We need an increased British naval presence in the region.”
Report authors James Rogers and Dr John Hemmings, said: “In the South China Sea, the People’s Republic of China is seeking to revise the Law of the Sea by asserting a number of unlawful and excessive claims over various international waters and low-tide elevations.
This is important because the UK, a maritime trading power, relies on maritime communication lines, which in turn depend on the cohesion of the rules-based international system.
“Maintaining a persistent naval presence in the Indo-Pacific – not least the South China Sea – comes at a cost.
“However, over twelve percent of British trade passes through the South China Sea each year, equivalent to £92 billion. The question is not whether the UK can afford to do this but whether it can afford not to.”