British Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson showed his tough stance against China as he wrapped up his visit to Australia. "We shouldn't be blind to the ambition that China has and we've got to defend our national security interests," he told ABC, adding that "We've got to ensure that any form of malign intent is countered and we see increasing challenges - it's not just from China, it's from Russia, it's from Iran."
Williamson indicated that he has learned "a lot of lessons" from Australia on "dealing with some of the challenges that China poses." He also confirmed a Royal Navy warship will sail from Australia through the South China Sea to assert navigation rights.
China has never irritated Britain on security. Williamson's rhetoric of containing China is surprising to many Chinese, especially after the two countries agreed to embrace an enhanced version of the "Golden Era" of relations during British Prime Minister Theresa May's China visit.
Chinese strategists are psychologically prepared that Britain, while showing goodwill to China, may provoke it from time to time. Britain has been double-faced in its Beijing policy. It's eager to deepen trade and economic cooperation with China but meanwhile never forgets its identity as a so-called "noble" Western country. Britain sometimes acts capriciously against China out of fear that it may be marginalized after Brexit.
China is facing a split Britain, with May and Williamson perhaps representing different diplomatic approaches to Beijing. This is typical Western diplomacy toward China. Beijing is aware and is adapting.
By acting tough against China, Britain's Ministry of Defence is trying to validate its existence and grab attention.
Freedom of navigation and overflight has never been a problem in the South China Sea. Confirming the navigation of a Royal Navy ship in the region, Williamson sent provocative signals and was immediately asked whether the ship would sail within 12 nautical miles of Chinese territory. We want to ask further: Is it meant to be a military provocation against China sending the naval vessel into the South China Sea? Williamson needs to state the purpose clearly. If not provocation, the Royal Navy should behave modestly when passing through the South China Sea. As the Royal Navy has been hit by news such as a leaky aircraft carrier and the UK government has a tight budget, it appears a difficult mission for the Royal Navy to come all this way to provoke China.
Chinese society is willing to develop friendly cooperation with Britain and doesn't harbor a mentality of trying to rival the country's military. If Williamson insists on challenging China, it seems Beijing has to respond.