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South China Sea

Volume 648: debated on Monday 22 October 2018

I pay tribute to the crews of HMS Albion and HMS Sutherland, which have played an important role in upholding freedom of navigation in the South China sea. Security in that region is vital to the UK and its global economic interests, and we shall not shy away from asserting our commitment to upholding the rules-based international system.

The continuing expansion of Chinese military activity in the South China sea, particularly around the Paracel islands, should worry anyone concerned about stability in the region, hence it was welcome to see HMS Albion there, flying the white flag—[Laughter.] —I mean the white ensign, but more will be necessary to reassure our allies. What are my right hon. Friend’s thoughts on more forward deployment of Royal Navy assets in this region—flying the correct flag?

My hon. Friend makes an important point about how our allies have seen our presence in the Indo-Pacific region. We have had the largest deployment of the surface fleet in a generation, and that will continue with HMS Argyll, which is due to be on exercise with our five power defence agreement allies, and also with HMS Montrose, which will be going to the region next year. It all goes to show that our passion and commitment to the region is growing, and we will be looking at how we can expand this in the future.

It must be remarkably tempting as Secretary of State for Defence to look at the map and long for the days when a gunboat or two could be sent. Sadly, the days when the white ensign—the white ensign!—flew unchallenged are gone. Will the Secretary of State accept the fact that our friends and allies in Taiwan greatly value British maritime presence in those waters? Has he considered the possibility—I ask him for no more than an indication that he will think about this—of visiting a port in Taiwan, just to show our solidarity and friendship?

There might be some challenges with that, but we will always consider all options and ideas. The actions that the Royal Navy has undertaken have brought in more allies in support of upholding the rules-based international order in the South China sea. That is what was so valuable about both Australia and France taking part in operations.

I understand from a defence company in my constituency that the Taiwanese are looking for defence contracts in this country and that the Americans are about to spend a lot of money on ships out in Taiwan. Can companies in this country go for those contracts, or is there some difficulty with that?

The Secretary of State has commended the work and the crew of HMS Albion, one of our landing platform docks in the South China sea. Bizarrely, however, the national shipbuilding strategy has defined it as not being a complex warship, unlike frigates, destroyers and aircraft carriers. Can the Secretary of State explain why HMS Albion and other amphibious ships are not deemed to be complex warships?

The national shipbuilding strategy highlighted the fact that the definition was to apply to aircraft carriers, frigates and destroyers, and the strategy was welcomed on both sides of the House.