China has warned Britain that it could be seen as ‘hostile action’ if HMS Queen Elizabeth moves close to the disputed Spratly Islands while on deployment in the region.
The Royal Navy’s future fleet flagship is due to be sent to the Pacific region as part of her first operational mission in 2021, it was announced by former defence secretary Gavin Williamson earlier this year.
She will also go to the Mediterranean and Middle East as part of her maiden deployment.
However the decision to send HMS Queen Elizabeth to the Pacific region has drawn the ire of the Chinese government.
According to reports from February, China’s vice premier Hu Chunhua abandoned plans to meet with then-Chancellor Phillip Hammond following Mr Williamson’s announcement.
Now the Chinese are warning that if HMS Queen Elizabeth was to move close to the contested Spratly Islands it could be considered a ‘hostile action’.
Forces.Net reports that major general Su Guanghui, China’s defence attaché to the UK, said: ‘If the US and UK join hands in a challenge or violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China, that would be hostile action.’
Ownership of the small group of islands in the South China Sea is disputed, with Brunei, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam all claiming the archipelago.
China’s ambassador to the UK said during an event in London that deploying HMS Queen Elizabeth to the area could be seen as an aggressive act.
Liu Xiaoming added: ‘The South China Sea is a vast ocean, it is three million square kilometres wide, we have no objection to people sailing around there but do not enter Chinese territorial waters within 12 nautical miles.’
He also warned that Beijing may be forced to respond militarily to HMS Queen Elizabeth’s deployment.