China’s military has warned that it would take stern reaction against the UK if it does not “remain restrained and obey the rules” as a Royal Navy aircraft carrier sails through the South China Sea.
Days after the entrance of a strike group into the contested South China Sea, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of National Defense, Wu Qian, said on Friday that Beijing respected freedom of navigation but firmly opposed any naval activities that constituted a provocation.
“The action should never try to destabilize regional peace, including the latest military collaboration between the UK and Japan,” Wu said, warning the UK government that “the Chinese navy will take any necessary actions to counter-measure” such provocations.
According to the British Defense Ministry, the strike group, which includes two destroyers and two frigates and was led by HMS Queen Elizabeth, is the largest concentration of maritime and air power to leave the UK in a generation. Its final destination is reported to be Japan, where it will purportedly take part in exercises alongside British allies.
China’s state-run newspaper Global Times has said “the very idea of a British presence in the South China Sea is dangerous.”
“We seriously warn this group: They are obliged to remain restrained and obey the rules. Please follow the current international shipping lanes and stay at least 12 nautical miles away from the Chinese islands and reefs,” an editorial on the paper said.
“If London tries to establish a military presence in the region with geopolitical significance, it will only disrupt the status quo in the region… To be precise, if the UK wants to play the role of bullying China in the region, it is demeaning itself. And if there is any real action against China, it is looking for a defeat,” it added.
Warning the UK, Australia, and Japan to “refrain from pushing ahead,” the editorial said that “if their warships rampantly behave as the US military does in the South China Sea, they will more likely become an example of China defending its sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace set the scene earlier this month for a confrontation with Beijing when he said deployments would take place on any route defined as legitimate under international law.
The UK is also planning to permanently assign two warships to the region later this year.
The US and its allies side with Beijing’s rival claimants in maritime disputes in the South China Sea, while China has always warned the US against military activities in the sea. Beijing says potential close military encounters between the air and naval forces of the two countries in the region may cause accidents.