CHINA / MILITARY
PLA stages S.China Sea drills, shows high combat readiness amid UK carrier tour
Published: Jul 27, 2021 09:23 PM
The HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier is pictured at anchor on the Solent, following an event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings, in Portsmouth, southern England, on June 5, 2019. Photo: AFP

The HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier is pictured at anchor on the Solent, following an event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings, in Portsmouth, southern England, on June 5, 2019. Photo: AFP



China is holding military drills in two navigation restriction areas in the South China Sea region amid news that a UK aircraft carrier task force arrived in Singapore on Monday and is about to enter the South China Sea with the plan of transiting "international waters claimed by China." Experts said on Tuesday that the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) will stand ready to deal with any improper acts by the UK warships and see their South China Sea tour as a chance for practice.

From Tuesday to Thursday, China will hold military exercises in the South China Sea southeast to the coastlines of Chuandao, South China's Guangdong Province, and passing vessels should stay five nautical miles away from the restricted area, according to a navigation restriction notice the Maritime Safety Administration of China on its website on Monday.

Another area in the South China Sea off the coast of Guangdong's Maoming is also hosting military exercises, from Monday to Wednesday, according to a separate navigation restriction notice.

As the PLA drills go on, a UK aircraft carrier task force, led by the HMS Queen Elizabeth carrier that has long hyped its plan to challenge China by transiting the South China Sea, arrived in Singapore on Monday, according to the carrier's Twitter account.

Based on previous UK statements, the carrier and its escort ships will likely hold exercises in the South China Sea or conduct so-called freedom of navigation operations on Chinese islands and reefs, potentially similar to the HMS Defender destroyer's doing in the Black Sea last month, as a means to display alliance with the US, a Beijing-based military expert who asked to remain anonymous told the Global Times on Tuesday.

While the Chinese military drills are not likely directly related to the UK warships, they show that the PLA is at a high combat readiness, the expert said, noting that just like US warships that intruded Chinese islands and reefs in the region, if UK vessels do the same, they will also be expelled by the PLA.

The PLA will closely monitor the UK warships' activities, stand ready to deal with any improper acts, and also see this as a chance for practice and for studying the UK's latest warships up close, another Chinese military expert told the Global Times, requesting anonymity.

The South China Sea has some of the busiest sea lanes in the world and is the lifeline of China's maritime trade, and the allegation that "freedom of navigation is under threat" in the South China Sea is simply untenable, a spokesperson at the Chinese Embassy in the UK said on Tuesday.

"If this allegation is true, the threat could only come from the one who deploys a carrier strike group to the South China Sea half a world away and flexes its naval muscles to heighten the military tension in that region," the spokesperson said.

Observers also noted that the UK carrier was recently struck by COVID-19 with more than 100 cases, and its escort ships were having technical issues.


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