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…