HMS Queen Elizabeth faces a high risk of ‘incidents’ in the South China Sea

HMS Queen Elizabeth faces a high risk of 'incidents' in the South China Sea

Danielle Sheridan

·3-min read
Undated handout photo issued by the Ministry of Defence of HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, Britain's aircraft carriers, together in their home port of Portsmouth. The Royal Navy has spent £39 million repairing and maintaining its two giant aircraft carriers in the past year. PA Photo. Issue date: Saturday January 16, 2021. The costs include repairs to HMS Prince of Wales after it suffered two leaks. See PA story DEFENCE Carriers. Photo credit should read: LPhot Ben Corbett/MoD/Crown Copyright/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder. - Ben Corbett/PA Wire

HMS Queen Elizabeth faces a high risk of “incidents” when it is deployed to the South China Sea, experts have warned.

It comes as China said recently that it would carry out “necessary measures to safeguard its sovereignty”, after it was confirmed that the aircraft carrier, which will be escorted by two Type 45 destroyers, two Type 23 frigates, a nuclear submarine, a Tide-class tanker and RFA Fort Victoria, would travel to the region in its first operational mission.

When Boris Johnson was foreign secretary in 2018 he said: “One of the first things we will do with the two new colossal aircraft carriers that we have just built is send them on a freedom of navigation operation to this area, to vindicate our belief in the rules-based international system, and in the freedom of navigation through those waterways which are absolutely vital for world trade.”

However, Charles Parton, OBE, senior associate fellow at Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI) a British defence and security think tank, warned on Tuesday that as there are more sailings “through the South China Sea we will see more tensions around them, and therefore a greater risk of an incident”.

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On board the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier
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Meia Nouwens, senior fellow for Chinese Defence Policy and Military Modernisation at The International Institute for Strategic Studies, also told the Commons Defence Select Committee that China’s “development of submersibles and unmanned underwater vehicles present an added challenge”.

She said: “We know China is developing these capabilities. Where this goes … will be an added challenge in terms of how we deal with grey zone tactics.”

Ms Nouwens also noted “the uptick in tempo of exercises” being seen from China and warned that the greater number of air incursions from the People’s Liberation Army, both with different special mission and combat aircraft, was something the UK “should be careful of”.

She said so far there have been 44 incursions by the Chinese in 2021, which have been “multiple at both day and night time”.

Moreover, Ms Nouwens cautioned that the “vast uptick in types and numbers of these exercises really increases the risk of miscalculation, misunderstanding and misinterpretation, and that’s something we should be careful of.”