China’s hawkish tabloid the Global Times has published warnings aimed at the British Royal Navy as its flagship vessel officially entered the South China Sea this week, Newsweek reports.
In separate op-eds, the Communist Party mouthpiece accused Britain of wanting to “revive its past glory” and “still living in its colonial days”.
The aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth is on its maiden voyage to the Indo-Pacific, escorted by half a dozen warships and a nuclear submarine.
The lengthy deployment is seen as a signal of the UK’s commitment to collective security in the region.
On Monday, the Queen Elizabeth Carrier Strike Group sailed through the Singapore Strait and took part in a maritime exercise with the Republic of Singapore Navy, according to statements by the British High Commission and Singapore’s defence ministry.
The Royal Navy group was joined by US Navy and Royal Netherlands Navy ships. Singaporean warships included RSS Intrepid, RSS Unity and RSS Resolution.
The British strike group is expected to sail further into the contested South China Sea, with eventual port calls in Japan scheduled for September.
China claims almost all of the energy-rich sea as part of its expansive “nine-dash line,” which the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague dismissed in a landmark ruling in 2016 as part of the case Philippines v China.
The UK and the US have voiced support for the court’s decision taken under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, but China continues to reject every line of the verdict.
All eyes will be on the carrier group in the coming weeks as observers seek to gauge the UK’s precise security posture in the region by how far it will go to challenge China’s “red lines”.
This will include whether any Royal Navy warships directly challenge China’s sweeping claims to natural and artificial reefs and islands in the South China Sea, perhaps in the form of pointed freedom of navigation operations so far only undertaken by the US Navy.
The UK “would be prudent not to send warships within 12 miles of Chinese territory”, said the Global Times, referring not to China’s coastline but the waters surrounding the many banks and reefs to which it lays claim, such as the Paracel Islands.
“Sending a warship within 12 miles of Chinese territory is a direct challenge to China’s core interests, which might result in misjudgment,” the paper said.
Britain “has always been wily” and “will not easily confront China,” the state-owned tabloid quotes Beijing analyst Wang Yiwei as saying.
Wang predicts the Royal Navy will carry out symbolic exercises with the US but will not antagonise China.
This week’s Royal Navy exercises in the South China Sea coincide with a three-day visit to Singapore by US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who is the first Biden cabinet official to stop in the city-state.
Austin met Singapore’s Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen and its Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in separate calls on Tuesday, according to reports.