The carrier strike group of the British Navy, led by the aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth, did not approach the artificial islands built by the PRC in the South China Sea during its mission in the region, the South China Morning Post reported on Wednesday, citing the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
As per BBC, the British government sees the fleet, named the Carrier Strike Group, as a potent symbol of “Global Britain” – and as proof of Boris Johnson’s promise to restore the Royal Navy as Europe’s foremost naval power and end what he called an “era of retreat”.
“According to our information, the ships did not enter the waters of the Chinese islands within 12 nautical miles in the South China Sea,” the publication quotes an excerpt from the ministry’s statement.
“China hopes that ships of other countries will respect international law while sailing in the South China Sea, respect the rights and sovereignty of coastal countries and avoid steps that harm regional peace,” the document said.
A source in the People’s Liberation Army of China, in turn, said that the Chinese military is “satisfied with the low level of military presence of the British aircraft carrier strike group” in local waters.
The South China Morning Post recalls that the group left the UK two months ago for a voyage that will last until the end of this year and will include military exercises with the United States, Australia, France and Japan in the Philippine Sea. Last week, the group entered the South China Sea zone, which China and several other states dispute. On Monday, the group left this sea and entered the Philippine Sea.
China and ASEAN members – the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam – are waging a territorial dispute over the Nansha archipelago (English name – Spratly) in the South China Sea. At the same time, China has turned a number of reefs and atolls into at least seven artificial islands, built runways and other military facilities. The US accuses Beijing of setting up military bases on the disputed islands in violation of international law. According to the South China Morning Post, the United States has sent ships closer than 12 nautical miles to these islands at least 40 times since the end of 2015.