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Britain’s Strategic Interest in South China Sea

30 January @ 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm

In late August last year stories began to emerge in the media of a confrontation between the Royal Navy and the People’s Republic of China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) in the South China Sea. At the time, it was rumoured that HMS Albion, an amphibious assault ship, had challenged some form of unlawful or excessive Chinese maritime claim in the region. Later, it emerged that the Royal Navy had asserted Freedom of Navigation in international waters between the Paracel Islands, making the United Kingdom the only country other than the United States confirmed to have undertaken a so-called Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP). Questions soon emerged: What is the People’s Republic of China doing in the South China Sea? And why is the Royal Navy active there?

By kind invitation of Ross Thomson MP, Member of Parliament for Aberdeen South, the Henry Jackson Society is pleased to invite you to join Dr John Hemmings and James Rogers, who will outline their latest Policy Paper “The South China Sea: Why it Matters to Global Britain”. They will explain what Beijing is doing in the South China Sea and why it matters to the United Kingdom. They will also outline why they think the British government should develop a more transparent and joined-up strategic approach to the region, particularly in relation to any attempts to revise the Law of the Sea and the wider rules-based international order.



Dr. John Hemmings – is Director of Asia Studies Centre at the Henry Jackson Society and an Adjunct Fellow at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. Prior to his doctoral studies, he was a visiting fellow at Pacific Forum CSIS and a research analyst at the Royal United Services Institute in Whitehall, working on Northeast Asia security and defence policies. He has written on foreign and security policy in Northeast Asia for nearly 10 years and had research positions at the Royal United Services Institute and the Asia Foundation. He contributes political analysis to various media, including the BBC, the Telegraph, Fox News, CNN, the Mainichi Shimbun, the Diplomat, and the National Interest; and is a regular on Monocle 24 Radio.



James Rogers – is Director of the ‘Global Britain’ Programme at the Henry Jackson Society, of which he is a founding member. Formerly, he held a number of positions at the Baltic Defence College in Estonia and has worked at the European Union Institute for Security Studies in Paris.



Dr. Bill Hayton was appointed an Associate Fellow with the Asia-Pacific Programme at Chatham House in 2015 and has worked as a journalist with BBC News since 1998. He was the BBC’s reporter in Vietnam in 2006/7 and spent a year seconded to the state broadcaster in Myanmar in 2013/14 working on media development. He focuses on the South China Sea disputes and current affairs in Southeast Asia. He has briefed government departments, officials and companies in the UK, the USA, Europe and Asia and written for numerous media outlets on these subjects. He is a graduate of the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.



Ross Thomson MP – In 2016, Ross was elected to the Scottish Parliament via the regional list. During Ross’ time at the Scottish Parliament, he was selected to serve on the Education and Skills Committee and as the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party’s spokesman on Higher Education, Further Education, Science and Technology. Ross became a spokesman for the Vote Leave campaign in the 2016 EU Referendum as one of the few pro-Brexit Members of the Scottish Parliament. On 8th June 2017, Ross became the Member of Parliament for Aberdeen South. Ross Thomson is an Aberdonian born and raised. He was educated at Balmedie Primary School, Bridge of Don Academy and graduated in 2009 from the University of Aberdeen a First Class MA (Hons) in Politics and International Relations.







On the 30th January, Dr John Hemmings and James Rogers of the Henry Jackson Society discussed their policy paper  ‘The South China Sea: Why It Matters to Global Britain’, alongside Dr Bill Hayton and by kind invitation of Ross Thomson MP.

Ross Thompson introduced the topic by highlighting that the South China Sea is crucial and we must raise our profile in the Indo-Pacific. The UK is reinventing itself to the rest of the world and we have seen more and more aggression from China. He raised the questions, which will subsequently be answered in the report, of what is China doing in the South China Sea and why? What can the UK do about it as Global Britain?

The report is one of the few from a British perspective and Dr John Hemmings identified that it can be broken down into two or three questions and answers, including economical and strategical issues. Why is Britain there? What is the interest so far away?

Dr Hemmings highlighted that Asia is becoming a large centre of the world’s GDP and currently the South China Sea imports 12% of trade to the UK which is a significant portion of global trade revenue. Maritime shipping is 9% of global trade and this is set to increase, with cities springing up along this trade route. He also predicted that Asia is the engine of economic growth and that Britain really should be there and he sees no reason why Britain should not be involved in this seismic shift. The deepest concern at the moment is that discussions have not worked in Britain trying to defend the order that the sea lanes are for everyone and should not be sectioned off.

James Rogers continued on from Dr Hemmings by identifying that this region is the future, not the past and Britain’s increasing interest in this area is not to do with history but the fact it is becoming the centre. He presented the idea that Britain needs to support a rule based system by exerting a persuasive influence raising not only the question of why does the South China Sea matter to the UK, but why does the UK matter to the South China Sea?

What are our options? Why do we worry about the China regime? Dr Bill Hayton said we could simply do nothing more but that China has a Leninist and opaque way of working. It is illegal to draw lines in the sea whilst using demands and threats, causing countries like the Philippines to lose 20% of its electricity supply as a result of China. If the law of the sea collapses in one place, we’ll see it collapse everywhere else. Our current prosperity, he noticed, is a combination of free global goods and free government, Britain needs to defend these issues.


Committee Room 10, House of Commons
London, SW1A 0AA United Kingdom


Henry Jackson Society
+44 (0) 20 7340 4520


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