Sydney: Major European countries are sending naval firepower to the Indo-Pacific in a show of support for Washington’s efforts to curb Beijing’s militarisation of the South China Sea.
Fumi Matsumoto and Yusuke Nakajima, writing in Nikkei Asia said that the UK and France joined exercises with the US and partners on the doorstep of the South China Sea.
After its recent arrival in the Philippine Sea, the UK’s largest aircraft carrier and its strike group are set to join the US, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, along with fellow European power France, in exercises close to the South China Sea.
“It’s rare for a British aircraft carrier to participate” in such events, a source in Japan’s Defence Ministry said, highlighting the importance of the drills.
The foray by the HMS Queen Elizabeth is part of a trend this year of major European countries sending naval firepower to push back Beijing’s foray into the South China Sea, says Fumi and Yusuke.
The UK and France have joined the US and Japan in contending that Chinese claims and activities in the South China Sea violate the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and the Philippine Sea exercises tie into this.
“As we witness a tilt in power towards the Indo-Pacific region, we are committed to working with our partners here to defend democratic values, tackle shared threats and keep our nations safe,” British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said in a July news release.
The British carrier departed in May and participated in drills with the Indian Navy in the Indian Ocean in July before transiting through the Luzon Strait south of Taiwan around Sunday. After the Philippine Sea exercises, it is slated to dock in Japan in September, reported Nikkei Asia.
France in May sailed a frigate and an assault ship near the South China Sea’s disputed the Spratly Islands, where Beijing has built up its military presence.
A French nuclear-powered attack submarine passed through the South China Sea early this year, and French fighter jets and transport aircraft are set to conduct drills this month over Southeast Asia, in an area running from India to Australia.
The German frigate Bayern set off Monday en route to the Indo-Pacific with 230 crew members aboard. The ship is set to cross the South China Sea, according to the foreign ministry.
“The Queen Elizabeth carrier strike group’s navigation to the South China Sea was the UK’s effort to show its presence in the region,” the Chinese Communist Party-affiliated Global Times said in an editorial last week.
“China has been strengthening its military capabilities in the South China Sea,” and aircraft carriers deployed by the US and its allies “would be very vulnerable to extreme military conflicts,” the paper warned.
The People’s Liberation Army is scheduled to hold drills in the South China Sea from Friday to Tuesday, reported Nikkei Asia.
Indo-Pacific region is largely viewed as an area comprising the Indian Ocean and the western and central Pacific Ocean, including the South China Sea.
Beijing claims almost all of the South China Sea as its sovereign territory, turning numerous obscure reefs and sandbars throughout the waterway into man-made artificial islands heavily fortified with missiles, runways and weapons systems.
China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea and has overlapping territorial claims with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan.
China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea and its efforts to advance into the Indian Ocean are seen to have challenged the established rules-based system.