The U.K. has stepped up military engagement with China to boost its understanding of the world’s second-largest economy, Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon said.
“This is a region of the world that’s growing the fastest, it’s of huge importance to us commercially,” Fallon said in an interview on Saturday on the sidelines of a security conference in Singapore.
The U.K. is ramping up its security activities in the Asia-Pacific region with almost 400 cooperation events planned this year. Three of its defense chiefs have visited China in the past few months as the European nation seeks to better understand the Chinese military, Fallon said.
Tensions in the South China Sea, through which some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes run, are “one of the central factors” that prompted the U.K. to look east again and bolster its defense ties in the region, the defense secretary said.
China contests about four-fifths of the South China Sea, criss-crossing claims from countries such as Vietnam and the Philippines. U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has pushed back at China’s claims its reclaimed reefs are national territory as the U.S. steps up patrols in the waters.
While the U.K. has expressed concerned about the frictions in the South China Sea and urges a peaceful resolution of the disputes, its increased defense engagement in Asia can’t be compared with the role the U.S. plays, Fallon said.