The British Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth has been the center of attention, with Chinese state-run media and diplomats accusing Britain of causing trouble in the contested waters of the South China Sea at the request of the United States.
Britain has not officially recognized the presence of its carrier strike group in the South China Sea, almost all of which is claimed by China as its sovereign territory, but a series of photos published on the website of the ‘US Navy showing US Marine Corps jets involved in operations. off the British carrier were released this week with the South China Sea deadline.
“A free and open, peaceful and stable Indo-Pacific region is vital to ensuring greater prosperity for the region and the world,” the photo caption reads.
CNN has contacted the UK Department of Defense and the US Marine Corps for comment on the location of the Queen Elizabeth.
The largest deployment in a generation
The UK Ministry of Defense said the strike group was the largest concentration of sea and air power to leave the UK in a generation.
Ten American F-35 fighter jets are deployed aboard the aircraft carrier, the result of an agreement between Washington and London to harmonize and integrate the operation of their aircraft carrier fleets. A US Navy destroyer and a Dutch frigate are also part of the attack group.
The group left Britain in May and are expected to travel to South Korea before returning home in the fall.
Since 2014, China has worked to transform many of the South China Sea’s dark reefs and sandbanks into man-made islands heavily fortified with missiles, tracks and weapons systems, sparking outcry from other governments. having competing claims on the waterway.
Wu Shicun, president of the Chinese National Institute for South China Sea Studies, described the deployment of the British aircraft carrier as an attempt to “relive the glory days of the British Empire.”
‘The British aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth’s latest voyage is not simply what London calls a crossing of the waters of the South China Sea under international law, but it is a carefully planned trick serving multiple purposes,’ reads -on in an article by Wu, published on the PLA. Website in English.
“It’s no secret that the UK has acted in complicity with the US on the South China Sea issue, closely following its lead and dancing to its beat,” Wu wrote.
“The South China Sea was a symbol of Britain’s glorious colonial past, through which the old empire that prided itself on its global colonies returned the fortune and treasures it had plundered to Asia,” he said. Wu added.
But US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, in a speech in Singapore Tuesday, called the deployment of HMS Queen Elizabeth “historic” as he called what he described as China’s illegitimate claim. over most of the South China Sea.
Austin said the UK carrier’s deployment showed partnerships not only with Washington, but also between countries in the region and outside.
“I am especially encouraged to see our friends forging stronger security bonds with each other, further strengthening the range of partnerships that keep aggression at bay,” he said.
A statement from the British High Commissioner to Singapore said the carrier strike group was then heading for multilateral exercises in the Philippine Sea.
US destroyer crosses Taiwan Strait
As the Carrier Strike Group crossed the South China Sea, a US Navy Surface Action Group brought together two classes of US warships for the first time in the region.
A press release from the U.S. 7th Fleet said the combination of the littoral combat ship USS Tulsa and guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd marked the first time that ships of these classes have combined to form an action group of area.
“These types of SAG operations are exceptional opportunities to exploit the combined lethality of the fleet,” Task Force Commander Captain Chase Sargeant said in the statement.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, another U.S. guided-missile destroyer, the USS Benfold, transited the Taiwan Strait between the Democratic-controlled island of Taiwan and the Chinese mainland and near the northern entrance to the South China Sea.
This was the seventh such transit of the Taiwan Strait by an American warship in 2021.
China has also flexed its military muscles in the region this week with multiple exercises, according to state media.
Two areas in the northern part of the South China Sea were placed under restricted access this week for exercises, according to an article in the state tabloid Global Times.
“Although the Chinese military exercises are probably not directly linked to the British warships, they show that the PLA is at a high level of combat readiness,” the report said.