UK HMS Queen Elizabeth in South China Sea raises threats in Beijing


A power struggle erupted after an aircraft carrier challenged China’s dominance over the South China Sea. Beijing says there will be consequences.

China says it has launched several military exercises as the British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth enters the South China Sea. He qualifies the visit of the ship as “colonial”. He warns that if he “interferes” in the islands and reefs claimed by China, he will be “expelled”.

“China will end the struggle between hegemonic and anti-hegemonial forces with the United States. All other countries outside the region are advised to stay away from this confrontation to avoid “accidental injury”, “warns a hostile state-controlled media editorial.

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Is Beijing worried?

So far, the only country to directly challenge Beijing’s rejected 12 nautical mile (22 km) sovereignty claims has been the United States. It did so again on Thursday, with the destroyer USS Benfold crossing the Taiwan Strait in trouble.

But the world is watching to see if London will join the United States in crossing such “red lines”.

“Sending a warship within 12 miles of Chinese territory is a direct challenge to China’s fundamental interests, which could result in misjudgment,” the Chinese Communist Party said. World time warns.

Other countries, including Australia, have confined themselves to operating warships in international waters and nearby shipping lanes.

Beijing is quite tense about speaking even harsher than usual.

“There is an old saying in China that if you want to punish someone, you have to consider saving face from their big brother,” Chinese military analyst Song Zhongping said. “However, what China will do is quite the opposite: China will make the United States understand that London will be punished by acting like Washington’s hound in provoking Beijing.”

Innocent passage?

Beijing warns, “We advise US allies to be especially careful, to keep a significant distance from China’s red lines, and to refrain from moving forward. If their warships behave frantically like the US military does in the South China Sea, they will more likely become an example of China defending its sovereignty and territorial integrity ”.

On Wednesday, a Beijing-based academic think tank, South China Sea Probing Initiative, located HMS Queen Elizabeth and her colleagues crossing China’s arbitrary “nine-dash line.”

“China is holding multiple military exercises in maritime areas including the Bohai Strait, the Yellow Sea and the South China Sea,” Beijing said in response to the news.

Open source intelligence enthusiasts also quickly spotted the Chinese aircraft carrier PLAN Shandong operating in the northern South China Sea.

Beijing accuses London of demagoguery. So this is to reciprocate.

“The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will stand ready to deal with any wrongdoing by British warships and will regard their South China Sea tour as a chance to train,” the Party said. Communist. World time warned.

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Two of the military exercises are taking place in the South China Sea. Both are found off Hainan Island and mainland Guangdong Province, where PLAN Shandong has been spotted.

“Just like the American warships that have invaded the Chinese islands and reefs in the region, if the British ships do the same, they will also be expelled by the PLA.”

“A chance to practice”

China claims almost all of the South China Sea, although it is bordered by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. In 2016, an international arbitral tribunal ruled this “nine-dash” territorial claim to be unfounded.

Beijing rejected the verdict.

It has since continued to step up acts of affirmation by its navy, coastguard and fishing militias in the region. Its controversial man-made island fortresses have been armed.

But he insists that Western nations are the main threat to peace in the region.

The multinational task force, led by the new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, includes several Royal Navy escort and support ships, as well as the US guided-missile destroyer USS The Sullivans and the Royal Navy frigate HNLMS Evertsen Dutch. Other nations move in and out of the formation as it traverses Southeast Asia.

The aircraft carrier and its escort ships will likely conduct exercises in the South China Sea or conduct freedom of navigation operations on Chinese islands and reefs, potentially similar to what the HMS Defender destroyer does in the Black Sea last month, “Chinese media report. .

The The UK Ministry of Defense has said so. But Beijing will not leave the presence of the aircraft carrier unopposed: “The PLA will closely monitor the activities of British warships, stand ready to deal with any wrongdoing, and will also see this as a chance to do so. train and study the UK’s last warships. close.”

Friends in need

“The Chinese side believes that the South China Sea should not become a sea of ​​great power rivalry dominated by weapons and warships,” Beijing Defense Department spokesman Tan Kefei said, in Hong Kong. South China Morning Post, without reference to its heavily armed island fortresses or naval intimidation of Vietnamese, Philippine and Malaysian fishing and resource exploration operations.

“The real source of militarization in the South China Sea comes from countries outside of this region which send their warships thousands of miles from home to build up muscle.”

But the UK, US and Netherlands say the aircraft carrier task force is exercising its rights under the International Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Beijing says London “still lives in colonial times.”

“The UK intends to use its navy to revive its old dream of empire, but its global strength cannot support such global ambitions,” said an World time opinion piece accuses.

But that’s not an argument that stands the test of time, says Dr Bill Hayton, Council on Geostrategy contributor.

“It’s both lazy and inaccurate,” he wrote.

The former colonies of Malaysia and Singapore became independent sixty years ago, he says. Brunei in 1984. “In addition, all of these countries – and many more – invited the UK to do port visits… and participate in combined exercises because of their own security concerns in the region. .

“In an uncertain environment, these countries are looking to countries with similar concerns, like the UK, for mutual support. “

When the push comes to push

Analysts believe the chances of a confrontation between PLAN Shandong and HMS Queen Elizabeth are slim.

The only direct confrontation between a Chinese and foreign warship in recent times has occurred in 2018. Then the destroyer PLAN Luyang forced the destroyer USS Decatur to change course to avoid a collision.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was visiting Singapore as HMS Queen Elizabeth passed. He joined the UK ambassador in rejecting aggressive claims from China.

“Beijing’s claim over the vast majority of the South China Sea has no basis in international law,” he said Tuesday. “This assertion undermines the sovereignty of states in the region. We continue to assist coastal states in the region to uphold their rights under international law.

For its part, Beijing has no formal alliances.

This is why the idea of ​​India, Japan, Australia and the United States turning the Quadrilateral Agreement into a defensive pact destabilizes her. And the presence of the UK-led task force that rekindles old Cold War friendships represents a further hardening of regional resolve.

“While the warships themselves pose a threat to China, the political influence of the tour is a greater threat as other Western countries like Australia and Canada could also follow and train this fleet. commune that regularly sails in the South China Sea and the East China Sea, with the objective of confronting China, ”Song said.

The idea of ​​a Western Pacific naval “standing force” was launched in June. The proposal is modeled on the strength of the Cold War era of international warships assembled against the Soviet Union in the North Atlantic

“It remains to be seen if this will happen, but even if it does, China will be able to dissolve the threat,” Song added.

Jamie Seidel is a freelance writer | @JamieSeidel

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