HMS Queen Elizabeth, a British aircraft carrier, and its Carrier Strike Group have entered the South China Sea, a territory predominantly claimed by China, reports the UK Defence Journal.
China claims practically the whole 1.3 million-square-mile South China Sea as its sovereign territory, and it has blamed foreign warships for escalating tensions in the region.
Freedom of navigation operations (or FONOPs) are routinely conducted by the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia to counter what Washington refers to as “attempts by coastal states to unjustly limit access to the seas.”
Both the US and the UK have previously enraged China by conducting FONOPs in the South China Sea to assert freedom of navigation rights.
The HMS Queen Elizabeth is escorted by six Royal Navy ships, a Royal Navy submarine, a US Navy destroyer, and a Dutch frigate, and is carrying eight F-35B Lightning II fast jets, four Wildcat maritime attack helicopters, seven Merlin Mk2 anti-submarine and airborne early warning helicopters, and three Merlin Mk4 commando helicopters on deck.
China has been carrying out incursions, sinking foreign ships, establishing new districts, giving Chinese names to islands, building new artificial islands and using fishing vessels as maritime militias in the South China Sea.
The South China Sea is a strategic waterway surrounded by six nations, such as China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.
Two groups of islands here are at the centre of a fierce territorial dispute. The first is the Paracel Archipelago, contested by China, Taiwan and Vietnam.
The second is the Spratly Islands, disputed between China and all other five nations. These islands are strategic because they are surrounded by waters teeming with marine life and are rich in oil and gas resources.
One-third of the world’s shipping traffic also passes through the South China Sea. Beijing claims sovereignty over nearly the entire sea.
The People’s Liberation Army Navy is at a high state of combat readiness’ says the pro-government Global Times, seen as a mouthpiece for the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
China has been closely monitoring the progress eastward of the Carrier Strike Group, which is currently sailing through the South China Sea en route to Japan, while accusing Britain of “still living in its colonial days”.
The Royal Navy has been carrying out exercises with the Singaporean navy and Britain’s Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has made no secret of the intention to conduct a so-called “Freedom of Navigation” exercise through the South China Sea.
Contrary to a 2016 international court ruling, China claims much of that sea as its own and has been busy building artificial reefs and runways, some of them close to the territorial waters of neighbouring states.
Both US and Royal Navy warships have recently challenged China’s claims to sovereignty in the South China Sea by purposely sailing through it.
So the question now is: will we see a close encounter similar to the one that took place in the Black Sea in June when the UK’s HMS Defender, a Type 45 destroyer, was buzzed by Russian warplanes as it passed close to the disputed Crimean peninsula?
China has been holding extensive military exercises in the region this week, practising beach assaults in a move that has worried some analysts it is preparing to eventually invade Taiwan.
But while the arrival of the Carrier Strike Group in the region has provoked some angry words from Beijing, Rusi’s Research Fellow for Naval Power, Sidharth Kaushal, points out that when it comes to naval standoffs, “China’s actions have been calibrated as being well below the threshold of anything that would start a shooting war”. All the information in this video came from the:https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-58015367
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