A US Marine Corps F-35B strike jet is launched from HMS Queen Elizabeth as she sails in the South China Sea. Photo: USMC.

With one of its escorting warships already having experienced a tense encounter with Russian air and sea forces off the Crimea, the UK Carrier Strike Group (UK CSG) has now made a foray into the South China Sea (SCS), provoking threats via Beijing’s State-run media.

One Chinese representative of a State-owned and run news outlet raged that the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth and her escorts had better watch out as they are ‘asking for a beating.’ Other government-controlled media suggested Britain is ‘looking for a defeat’ and that the UK CSG would be ‘expelled’ from the SCS.

Shortly after making a transit of the Suez Canal HMS Queen Elizabeth exercises in the Gulf of Aden with the US Navy strike carrier USS Ronald Reagan. Photo: US Navy.

Having in recent years illegally occupied several islands and reefs in the SCS, transforming them into military bastions boasting air bases and naval facilities (among other things), the Chinese have unilaterally declared them to have 12-mile limit territorial waters.

China’s military forces, including aircraft and warships, have in the past aggressively intercepted American and Australian naval vessels that stray close to these ‘bastions.’

In the wake of the Chinese threats, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) made it clear HMS Queen Elizabeth was intent on making a peaceful transit of the SCS from Singapore and into the Philippine Sea, heading for naval exercises with naval and air forces of the USA, Japan, Australia and France.

The Royal Malaysian Navy frigate KD Lekiu during a rendezvous with the UK Carrier Strike Group in the South China Sea. Photo: Royal Navy.

Since leaving the UK in May, the Queen Elizabeth and her CSG have engaged in a series on exercises and operations with allied navies and air forces, in both the Mediterranean and also in the Arabian Sea and South China Sea.


While in the eastern Mediterranean the British carrier also launched F-35B jets of the UK and US Marine Corps to conduct air strikes against terrorist targets in Syria and Iraq. The UK CSG has trained with the Indian Navy, Republic of Singapore Navy and Royal Malaysian Navy since arriving East of Suez.

There will be a report on the latest operations and exercises undertaken by the UK CSG in the forthcoming September edition WARSHIPS IFR, available as hard copy or digital version.

Units of the Republic of Singapore Navy in close company with HMS Queen Elizabeth.
Photo: Royal Navy.

It wasn’t only the UK CSG venturing into the South China Sea that this week that outraged the Chinese. So did the latest Freedom of Navigation Patrol (FONOP) by the US Navy through international waters, while the USN also held a series of exercise with allied fleets elsewhere in the SCS.

Meanwhile, as reported by WARSHIPS IFR in its current edition (August 2021)  the plan by Germany to send the frigate FGS Bayern into Indo-Asia-Pacific, to reportedly also train with allied navies in the SCS, earned a caution from Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Its spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, said, when asked about the German deployment during a press conference: “We have noted the relevant report. We hope that the military vessel of the relevant country will earnestly abide by international law when passing through the South China Sea, respect the sovereignty, rights and interests of littoral countries, and refrain from doing things that would undermine regional peace and stability.”

For a look at our video of FGS Bayern as the frigate trained for the deployment to Indo-Asia Pacific CLICK HERE.

For more on the UK Carrier Strike Group also see the WARSHIPS IFR ‘Guide to the Royal Navy 2021’ CLICK HERE.

Watch our video on HMS Defender’s encounter with Russian forces off the Crimea on our YouTube channel HERE. 

Seafarers UK


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