By Wang Peng
The British Royal Navy recently posted photos of its HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier strike group on social media, demonstrating the core maritime force it is determined to form. According to an official agreement previously signed by the British and American defense officials, a combined strike group, led by the aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth, will be deployed to the Asia-Pacific in the spring of 2021.
London’s decision to merge forces with Washington to form a new carrier strike group has captured extensive attention. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the parliament, “Next year HMS Queen Elizabeth will lead a British and allied task group on our most ambitious deployment for two decades, encompassing the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean and East Asia, where we will carry out joint military exercises and patrols with our allied naval ships.”
There are two reasons why the UK is eager to deploy its newly formed combat force to the Asia Pacific. For one thing, it is intensifying its “presence” by enhancing and showcasing its military strengths and participating in global hotspot issues. Worried about its increasing isolation from the international community since Brexit, the country is anxious to restore its international standing in a proactive or even aggressive posture. In 2019, the then Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said Britain might build new military bases in the South China Sea and the Caribbean Sea, which would get his country back to the international stage as a 'true global player'.
For another, the UK wants to tighten its alliance with the US by taking aggressive steps toward China, which is one of the most effective ways for it to restore its international standing quickly. That London’s 2021 defense budget reached 16.5 billion pounds – the largest for the country since the end of the Cold War, the highest in Europe, and second in NATO – showed how committed it is to strengthen the ties with Washington. This, coupled with a reciprocal eagerness from the US, has laid a solid political foundation for them to deepen and broaden their military alliance.
But “global deployment” is no piece of cake for the British navy, which is more willing than able given its current naval force. British media reported that capital warships of the Royal Navy have many problems to be solved, such as the serious leaking on HMS Queen Elizabeth and the risk of a breakdown in the power systems of six Type-45 destroyers. In fact, the planned operation involves half of its surface vessels, which, no wonder, is commented as quite a stretch by critics. According to a Russian military expert on Asia-Pacific issues, the Brits cannot wait to flex muscles when they are not in the place yet – that’s very dangerous.
According to British media coverage, this British naval expeditionary fleet would carry out joint maritime exercises with the Indian, the ROK, and American navies in sea areas around China, including the Indian Ocean, the South China Sea, and the East China Sea, focusing on raising ocean-going combat force and war-preparedness. The British government has also announced that the replenishment base for the HMS Queen Elizabeth group will be set in Japan during its operations in the Asia-Pacific. It’s clear that the US-UK combined carrier strike group will operate mainly in the Asian-Pacific region, particularly around the South China Sea.
They have chosen this hotspot region because for a long time, the US has been carrying out the so-called “freedom of navigation” operations here on a high profile to flaunt its military hegemony and strength, and the US has been recruiting allies to help share the burden. London proposed to return to the Asia-Pacific to meet this strategic demand of the US.
In response to British Royal Navy’s announcement to dispatch the HMS Queen Elizabeth to the South China Sea, Senior Colonel Tan Kefei, a spokesperson for China’s Ministry of National Defense, told a regular press conference on December 31, 2020, that the South China Sea should be neither an arena for major-power wrestling nor a sea dominated by warships. At present, the South China Sea maintains generally stable thanks to the joint efforts made by China and ASEAN countries. Some countries outside the region come from afar to flex their military muscles, ignite confrontations, and create tensions in the South China Sea, which is the root reason for the “militarization” of this region. The Chinese military will take necessary measures to firmly safeguard China’s sovereignty, security and development interests and maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea region, said the spokesperson.
Editor's note: This article is originally published on www.cyol.com, and is translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military Online. The information, ideas or opinions appearing in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of eng.chinamil.com.cn.