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    UK Carrier’s First Mission Will Carry US F-35s Through Middle East, Pacific

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    The UK Royal Navy’s newest aircraft carrier will go on its first mission this year through the disputed South China Sea, carrying US F-35 aircraft, the British Defence Secretary said this week.

    The HMS Queen Elizabeth will lug F-35s belonging to both the UK and the US, UK Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson said February 11, on a mission that "will include the Mediterranean, Middle East and Pacific — making Global Britain a reality."

    The trip through the Pacific may include a route in the proximity of contested maritime features in the South China Sea, Stars and Stripes reports.

    "Significantly, British and American F-35s will be embedded in the carrier's air wing, enhancing the reach and lethality of our forces and reinforcing the fact that the United States remains our very closest of allies," the secretary said during an event at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies.

    ​The United States Navy has been carrying out freedom-of-navigation missions in the South China Sea, a tremendously valuable body of water for international trade, in recent years.

    Last fall, the British amphibious warship HMS Albion sailed near Chinese-claimed maritime features in the South China Sea en route to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, a move the Chinese Foreign Ministry called "provocative."

    But an editorial in China Daily last fall observed that "freedom of navigation has never been a problem," adding that "hundreds of thousands of commercial ships pass through the strategic waterway each year, transporting an estimated $5 trillion worth of goods."

    Further, "not a single" commercial vessel's freedom of navigation is ever compromised," the editorial noted.

    The editorial slammed the Albion's freedom of navigation mission last year as "reckless" before suggesting the UK "should refrain from being Washington's sharksucker in the South China Sea."

    "The United Kingdom m is no doubt eager to seize whatever opportunity to get into Washington's good books," China Daily wrote in the September 6 piece titled "UK should try to have more than one friend."

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