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South China Sea Operations

Defence – in the House of Commons on 12th May 2020.

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Photo of Andrew Lewer Andrew Lewer Conservative, Northampton South

Whether the Royal Navy plans to continue operations in the South China sea.

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace The Secretary of State for Defence

May I just pay tribute to the men and women of the armed forces who have risen to the challenge of helping to deal with covid? We will find them up and down this country, and indeed in Whitehall, embedded right across the system helping to deliver the response. May I also welcome to his place the shadow Secretary of State, John Healey? I look forward to working with him to tackle the issues around defence.

The Royal Navy, along with other NATO allies, will continue to uphold the right of navigation across the globe. This is an inviolable right, and, where it is threatened, the UK will always be at the forefront of defending it.

Photo of Andrew Lewer Andrew Lewer Conservative, Northampton South

The Royal Navy is at its best when it works closely with our allies. Will the Minister update the House on recent co-operation with the Royal Australian Navy?

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace The Secretary of State for Defence

The Royal Navy and the Royal Australian Navy collaborate across the globe on a near daily basis. Only this morning, I had an hour-long conversation with my counterpart in Australia. The Type 26 Hunter-class frigate partnership has flourished through the Global Combat Ship user group. Operationally, we have worked closely on the management and challenges of covid-19 in the maritime sector, as well as in the Strait of Hormuz, providing security to global shipping.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Chair, Defence Committee, Chair, Defence Committee, Chair, Defence Sub-Committee, Chair, Defence Sub-Committee

I echo the comments of the Defence Secretary and say thank you to our armed forces for what they are doing to tackle the coronavirus. The British people may have come together as one nation, but the same cannot be said on an international level, which is a very different picture. Our world order was already in a fragile state, but now, under the fog of covid-19, countries such as China and Russia are exploiting this global distraction to further their own geopolitical agendas. May I ask him to call for an urgent meeting of the National Security Council to review our competitors’ activities, which, left unchecked, could lead to serious conflict in the future?

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace The Secretary of State for Defence

My right hon. Friend makes an important point that there are adversaries and competitors around the world seeking to use this horrendous outbreak not only to exploit our differences, but to further their ambitions. I urge them to focus on the matter at hand, which is tackling covid collectively around the world, rather than taking advantage of that. On the point about the NSC, the decision to call an NSC meeting is a matter for the Government Security Directorate in the Cabinet Office, the Cabinet and the Prime Minister. It is not the case that, by not having such a meeting, we have no agenda on security. We meet the threat every single day and, indeed, many of the decisions made at NSC are enduring and do not need to be refreshed unless there is a major turn of events. We will keep the situation under review, as will, I know, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.