Well Done, Guys: UK, US Fire on Uninhabited Island During Drills Amid S China Sea Tensions
In late April, UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace pledged that the HMS Queen Elizabeth's first operational mission in the Indo-Pacific would not be “provocative” toward China.
Warships of the UK's Carrier Strike Group (CSG) have conducted live firing drills in the Pacific Ocean jointly with the US Navy’s Expeditionary Strike Group 7.
The exercises, which involved the UK Royal Navy’s aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, were part of the CSG’s seven-month Indo-Pacific mission.
"It was a privilege to take part in this joint exercise which showed how HMS Defender can quickly and seamlessly integrate into any multi-national task group and contribute effect”, the warship’s Commander Vincent Owen said.
On 23 June, the HMS Defender, a Daring-class Royal Navy destroyer, illegally entered Russian waters off Crimea and proceeded to sail through, prompting Russian warships and aircraft to surround the ship and fire warning shots in its vicinity to force it to leave. Moscow denounced the incident as a deliberate provocation.
The CSG-Expeditionary Strike Group 7 drills came after Wu Qian, a spokesman for the Chinese National Defence Ministry, warned in late July that Beijing may respond in kind to the UK carrier strike group sailing through the disputed waters of the South China Sea.
Wu underscored that the ministry respects freedom of navigation, but firmly opposes any naval activities that may provoke controversy.
A spokesperson for Britain's Ministry of Defence, in turn, said that at the time, the CSG was lawfully navigating the South China Sea, "just as one third of global shipping does on an annual basis".
Aside from Beijing, the sea’s contested waters are claimed by a number of countries, such as the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam. The US has no claims to the area, but it often conducts so-called "freedom of navigation" missions there, resulting in condemnation from Beijing.
UK Defence Secretary Touts HMS Queen Elizabeth’s Indo-Pacific Mission
British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace touted the strike group's Indo-Pacific mission in April, when he stressed that it "will be flying the flag for Global Britain" to protect the country's "influence" and reaffirm the UK's "commitment to addressing the security challenges of today and tomorrow".
When asked if it was relevant to send the mission to the region, where China is located, Wallace said that the HMS Queen Elizabeth's deployment was not "provocative", but aimed to indicate Britain's readiness to "play an active role in shaping the international system of the 21st century".
He made the remarks after UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled the country's new foreign policy review in late March, a document that specifically said the Indo-Pacific region was "increasingly [becoming] the geopolitical centre of the world".
The review also argued that Beijing's increasing power and assertiveness are likely to become the main "geopolitical factor" of the current decade, urging Britain to make more of an effort to adapt to China's growing impact on the world.