Britain plans new naval bases in Southeast Asia, Caribbean
The U.K. is setting its sights on new naval bases in Southeast Asia and the Caribbean.
LONDON — The Telegraph reports that Britain plans to increase its military presence abroad by opening two new bases.
UK Defence Minister Gavin Williamson told the newspaper in an interview that a new naval base will be established in Southeast Asia, either in Brunei or Singapore. The British government is also considering building a second base in Montserrat or Guyana in the Caribbean.
According to an opinion piece in the Washington Examiner, a naval base in Brunei would allow the UK to support the Americans in 'corralling Chinese forces' by limiting their movement and offering force replenishment.
They can also provide strike power by deploying Astute-class submarines at the base. Powerful torpedos and a high-capability sonar system allows the submarines to "complement U.S. Virginia-class counterparts in threatening the enemy while unseen."
Brunei is already host to a British Army base, where an infantry battalion of Royal Gurkha Rifles are stationed, along with an Army Air Corps Flight of Bell 212 helicopters.
According to a British Ministry of Defense document, a Franco-British carrier strike group may also be deployed in the early 2020s. The UK's HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, and France's Charles de Gaulle will rotate as the formation's primary warship.
The move is set to complement Washington's strategy of asserting freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific region, particularly in the South China Sea.
But Beijing will likely see it as a threat, especially since the country claims the entire South China Sea as its own, and has militarized several disputed islands in the region.
Reuters reports that tensions between Beijing and London were inflamed after a British warship sailed near the Paracel islands on August 31. The HMS Albion was carrying a contingent of Royal Marines when it exercised freedom of navigation rights as it passed the disputed islands while en route to Ho Chi Minh.
China regarded the gesture as hostile, and dispatched a frigate and two helicopters to challenge the vessel.
The planned base has already been called 'muscle-flexing' by one Chinese professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Russia has likewise condemned plans for British bases, and warned of retaliation if its interests or that of its allies are ever threatened.
But support for the U.S. aside, Britain may have other reasons for pushing its plan. According to CNN, a naval base in Asia may also serve as a 'showroom' for military hardware and could result in big arms deals that would benefit the UK's economy.
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