Britain has announced the permanent deployment of two warships in the South China Sea amid growing tensions between the United States and China.
British Defense Minister Ben Wallace said in a joint press conference with his Japanese counterpart in Tokyo on Tuesday that, “The United Kingdom will permanently assign two ships in the region from later this year."
Wallace said the deployment would be after a strike group consisting of Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier and escort ships sailed through waters in the South China Sea in September.
"In the coming months, the carrier strike group will visit Japan, heralding a new era for UK-Japan defense and security cooperation," the British defense minister added.
The Queen Elizabeth is being escorted by two destroyers, two frigates, two support vessels and ships from the United States and the Netherlands.
It will come to Japan through the South China Sea, parts of which are claimed by China and Southeast Asian countries, with stops in India, Singapore and South Korea.
In a statement on the deployment, a Pentagon spokesperson congratulated Britain for its "commitment to an inter-connected network of allies and partners, who mutually cooperate and support freedom of navigation and a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region."
The South China Sea is a gateway to major sea routes, through which about 3.4 trillion dollars’ worth of trade passes each year. China claims sovereignty over much of the strategic waterway and has since 2014 built artificial islands on reefs and installed military bases on them.
Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei have overlapping claims with China to parts of the sea.
The United States, which sides with Beijing’s rival claimants in the maritime dispute, routinely sends warships and warplanes to the South China Sea to assert what it calls its right to freedom of navigation, ratcheting up tensions among the regional countries.
China has constantly warned the US against its military activities in the sea, saying that potential close military encounters between the air and naval forces of the two countries in the region could trigger accidents.