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UK Warship Reportedly Enters South China Sea As Part of Carrier Strike Group Despite China's Warning

© REUTERS / SERGEY SMOLENTSEVBritish Royal Navy's Type 45 destroyer HMS Defender arrives at the Black Sea port of Odessa, Ukraine June 18, 2021.
British Royal Navy's Type 45 destroyer HMS Defender arrives at the Black Sea port of Odessa, Ukraine June 18, 2021. - Sputnik International, 1920, 27.07.2021
In mid-July Britain’s carrier strike group led by HMS Queen Elizabeth entered the Indian Ocean for joint exercises with the Indian Navy while on route to the South China Sea for ‘freedom of navigation” operations, with Beijing warning London that it would take measures to "safeguard its sovereignty and security" in the contested area.
HMS Defender, a Royal Navy warship that tried to illegally sail through Russian territorial waters off Crimea in June, has reportedly entered the South China Sea, a region largely claimed by China, according to automatic identification system (AIS ) data cited by UK media.

​The Type 45 Destroyer is part of HMS Queen Elizabeth’s Carrier Strike Group CSG 21 that recently took part in Exercise Konkan.
​The latter involved the Royal Navy and Indian Navy vessels engaged in a number of maritime drills. Following the training exercise, the carrier strike group partially split, with some ships heading towards the disputed South China Sea, in defiance of Beijing’s earlier issued warnings.
The South China Sea, with significant hydrocarbon reserves, including the Paracel and Spratly Islands, have long been a source of tension for China and its neighbours amid a dispute over the waters' maritime borders. China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei all have competing claims.
Beijing claims almost all of the 1.3 million-square-mile South China Sea as its sovereign territory.
Last month, Foreign secretary Dominic Raab warned Beijing that the UK flotilla, spearheaded by the brand new HMS Queen Elizabeth - described as the "flagship" of the British navy - would be entering the South China Sea.
“It's absolutely right we exercise and defend the rights, and we do so from the Ukrainian territorial sea to the South China Sea,” Raab told the Commons foreign affairs committee.
The strike group of Royal Navy ships will pay visits to five Japanese ports in September, officials said during a visit by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace to Tokyo. As he touted the strike group's Indo-Pacific mission in late April, Defence Secretary Wallace stressed that it "will be flying the flag for Global Britain”.
His remarks followed the country's new foreign policy review, presented by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to British lawmakers in late March. The report designated the Indo-Pacific region as "increasingly [becoming] the geopolitical centre of the world".

Britain’s ‘Muscle-Flexing’

In response to reports that Britain’s newest aircraft carrier would be deployed to the Pacific region, including the contentious sea, for its first operational mission, Chinese defence spokesman Tan Kefei was quoted in the South China Morning Post in early January as saying:
“The Chinese side believes that the South China Sea should not become a sea of great power rivalry dominated by weapons and warships. The real source of militarisation in the South China Sea comes from countries outside this region sending their warships thousands of kilometres from home to flex muscles. The Chinese military will take necessary measures to safeguard its sovereignty, security and development interest as well as peace and stability in the South China Sea.”
So far there has not been any official statement from China in regard to the reported presence of UK warships in the contested waters.

UK Warship Incident

HMS Defender was involved in a tense incident in late June as the destroyer broke off from the British battle group in the Mediterranean and enter the Black Sea where it triggered Russia's anger by breaching territorial waters off the Crimean Peninsula.
The violation prompted Russian forces to fire warning shots and scramble Su-24M fighters to drop bombs in the path of the destroyer after it ignored other warnings telling it to leave.
Moscow blasted the incident as a deliberate provocation, while London initially offered a series of contradictory explanations on what had transpired.
The UK Defence Ministry denied that Russia fired any warning shots, while a BBC journalist onboard the ship confirmed that they took place, while the British Embassy in Moscow maintained that the vessel was just carrying out “innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters.” However, a video published by the Russian security service showed the ship ignoring warnings only exiting Russia's waters after the shots were fired.
Meanwhile, sensitive British Ministry of Defence documents, dated 21 June and offering an analysis of the potential consequences of the warship's passage, were found by a member of the public at a bus stop in Kent last month. Cited by the BBC, the papers suggested the provocative incident was deliberately designed to get Moscow's reaction.
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