Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021

South China Sea warning: Beijing ‘creating fortresses’ in region risks sparking conflict

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And Mr Ellwood, a member of the new Parliamentary organisation the China Research Group chaired by fellow Tory Tom Tugendhat, says Britain needs to take a stand, along with other western nations, or risk the potential of a minor conflict spiralling into a major one. The disputed waters, where China has converted numerous uninhabited islands into heavily fortified military bases, have been the scene of numerous tense encounters in recent years – and Mr Ellwood, MP for Bournemouth East, told he was deeply concerned at developments.

Ultimately they are creating fortresses across the South China Sea and nobody is challenging them on that, despite international law saying otherwise

Tobias Ellwood MP

He said: “There are three areas where China is advancing: economically, through the One Belt, One Road initiative, technologically, through its push with Huawei, tying people into that, and then, of course, militarily.

“Ultimately they are creating fortresses across the South China Sea and nobody is challenging them on that, despite international law saying otherwise.”

In essence, Beijing was attempting to “cordon the region off”, Mr Ellwood explained.

He added: “Once they have got a military presence there they then can use that to expand their own footprint to challenge anybody that comes through.

“It’s getting more and more aggressive – we send ships through occasionally but they are treated with such hostility that you can easily see a minor conflict spiralling out of control.”

On the wider issue of China’s behaviour viewed in a worldwide context, Mr Ellwood said initial hopes that the country would evolve into a “responsible global citizen” had not materialised.

He added: “China covets superpower status but avoids any sense of duty to uphold the core values that we enjoy – freedom, democracy, rule of law etc.

“What it is doing is promoting a competing vision, subtly forcing nations to choose sides, the authoritarian system of control versus ours.

“They are utilising Huawei and other things to ensnare small countries into its web of influence and we are seeing this in the South China Sea as well.”

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Consequently, the “fragile world order” made conflict increasingly likely.

With reference to China and Russia, he said: “We’ve got two superpowers that have become increasingly confrontational.

“That’s developed into a genuine geopolitical power struggle at the very point at which we are about to enter a 1930s recession.

“So we have no global leadership, we have economic hardship, and the international institutions are no longer able to reconcile differences, which is exactly where we were in the 1930s.

“I am genuinely worried that we are going to see China collaborate further with Russia and Iran and offer a very different model of governance and rule of law.”

Mr Ellwood has also voiced concerns about China using any coronavirus vaccine it might develop to extend its influence worldwide, especially in developing countries.

However, he also suggested the pandemic might also prompt nations to consider adopting a tougher stance towards Beijing.

He said: “What this virus has done, given China’s conduct at the start to suppress the outbreak and now it has moved on to Hong Kong, is it is getting people to recalibrate their views on where China is going and what our role should be.

“I am hoping that will harden attitudes to be able to stand up to them because at the moment we have been timid in standing our ground.

“You go back to the 1930s and it was Churchill who told the United States ‘be aware there is a superpower threat’ and we need to do the same, to come together with America and really revisit the Atlantic charter, which is the bedrock if you like of US/UK international leadership.

“I think now the vehicle for that to advance is through the Five Eyes community in establishing a series of protocols on trade cooperation and security, which does not overshadow the existing constructs but it would certainly a lot of well-intentioned countries willing to support each other to deal with the challenges and the threat of China.”

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