Great Britain’s “planned naval base” in Southeast Asia is seen as a “muscle-flexing” by China, according to Chinese analysts cited by the SCMP on January 1st.
According to the outlet “Britain’s plan to build a new military base in Southeast Asia is likely to further complicate the strategic landscape in a region already fraught with maritime disputes and geopolitical rivalry between Beijing and Washington,” citing experts such as Xu Liping, a professor at the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Answering a question regarding UK military presence in the case of a no-deal Brexit, UK Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson said that he was looking into new opportunities for the armed forces as he described leaving the EU as ”our biggest moment as a nation since the end of the Second World War.”
The defence secretary also downplayed the significance of his announcement that 3.500 troops were being put on standby, describing it as “good sensible planning to make sure that everything runs as smoothly as possible.”
He also said that no requests from foreign governments have been received as of yet and that nothing is concrete.
However, on December 30th, the Sunday Telegraph cited an anonymous source close to Williamson, who claimed that the new bases could be sited in Singapore or Brunei in the South China Sea, or Montserrat or Guyana in the Caribbean “within the next couple of years.”
“I am also very much looking at how can we get as much of our resources forward based, actually creating a deterrent but also taking a British presence. We are looking at those opportunities not just in the Far East but also in the Caribbean as well,” Williamson was cited as saying.
He also praised the efforts made to ensure that UK military assets are visible deployed around the world.
“For the first time in a generation this Christmas we have two ships operating in the Pacific Ocean a long way from home. We are the second biggest inward investor into that region. So if our economic interests are there we should also have a military interest there.”
With just about 90 days left in the EU, the Defense Secretary thinks it is necessary to present a more optimistic picture of the UK post-Brexit.
Mr Williamson predicts that the “political focus will shift quite dramatically” after Brexit and the UK has to build “deeper relationships with Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Caribbean countries but also nations right across Africa.” These countries would possibly “look to us to provide the moral leadership, the military leadership and the global leadership.”
“They realise that we are good partners and actually the values that we stand for of tolerance, democracy and justice, these are the values that they hold dear to their hearts.”
Thus, despite the “planned naval base in Southeast Asia” being a rumor based on an anonymous sources, the South China Morning Post cited even more analysts to make predictions of grim outcomes if it would happen.
“It is clearly a muscle-flexing gesture targeting China and shows closer engagement of external powers in the South China Sea disputes,” said Xu Liping. Xu believed Washington, was behind London’s alleged plan for a military base in the region.
Ni Lexiong, a naval expert at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, said that the alleged plan was evidence that the UK and allies are aligning themselves with US President Donald Trump’s hardline approach on China.
“It is a complementary step to Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy and Washington will be pleased,” Ni said.
Chinese experts also questioned the feasibility of the naval base plan.