The deployment of a British aircraft carrier and her strike group is politically symbolic as it serves to validate the concept of ‘Global Britain’ and as such the deployment is certainly political, but it also serves a strategic aim.

The British ’tilt’ towards the Indo-Pacific is based on several concerns such as economics (the economies of the region are growing at a substantial rate) and security (to preserve freedom of navigation in the face of China claiming vast swatches of the world’s oceans).


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Simply put, the UK believes that the increasing power and international assertiveness of China is likely to be one of the most significant geopolitical factors in the world today and it feels it needs to be involved.

HMS Queen Elizabeth with a mix of British and American jets.

The British government recently published a policy document outlining the country’s comprehensive strategic framework for engaging with the world for the next decade.

The 100-page document titled ‘Global Britain in a competitive age — The Integrated Review of Security, Defense, Development and Foreign Policy’ states that the Indo-Pacific region is critical to the UK’s economy, security and global ambition to support open societies.

Don’t take my word for it, the following mentions China.

“To meet the Prime Minister’s vision for 2030, we will need a long-term strategic approach – combining all the instruments available to government – that continues to adapt to a changing international environment. This is a context defined by: geopolitical and geoeconomic shifts, such as China’s increasing international assertiveness and the growing importance of the Indo-Pacific; systemic competition, including between states, and between democratic and authoritarian values and systems of government; rapid technological change; and transnational challenges, such as climate change, biosecurity risks, terrorism and SOC.”

and…

“Indo-Pacific: we will pursue deeper engagement in the Indo-Pacific in support of shared prosperity and regional stability, with stronger diplomatic and trading ties. This approach recognises the importance of powers in the region such as China, India and Japan, and extends to others including South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and the Philippines. We will seek closer relations through existing institutions such as ASEAN and seek accession to the CPTPP.”

annndd….

“China: we will do more to adapt to China’s growing impact on many aspects of our lives as it becomes more powerful in the world. We will invest in enhanced China-facing capabilities, through which we will develop a better understanding of China and its people, improving our ability to respond to the systemic challenge that China poses to our security, prosperity and values – and those of our allies and partners. We will continue to pursue a positive trade and investment relationship with China, while ensuring our national security and values are protected. We will also cooperate with China in tackling transnational challenges such as climate change.”

Why does this matter to Britain? To put it simply, freedom of navigation.

Territorial claims in the South China Sea

While the Royal Navy plans to forward deploy patrol vessels to bases in the region, it is the carrier strike group which is paving the way and sending a message, ‘Britain is capable of deploying serious firepower to back up its obligations in the region’.

In fact, British military aims for the region don’t stop at a patrol vessel and a very occasional carrier visit.

The aforementioned deployment of a River class patrol vessel in 2021 is certainly the primary short-term addition to British naval forces in the Indo-Pacific but in the late 2020s, Type 31 frigates are going to be permanently based in the region, patrolling the British Overseas Territories and paying visits to friendly nations with the aim of building relationships.

HMS Queen Elizabeth sailing her Carrier Strike Group.

Local nations have very strong concerns about security in the region in the face of increasing Chinese claims on vast swathes of ocean, the presence of a British carrier group and soon more British warships is likely to stop China from undertaking any major moves against countries in the region as that could risk the wider involvement of the U.S., UK, and other powers.

Referring to the concept of ‘Freedom fo Navigation’, the strategy document states:

“For our security – the region is at the centre of intensifying geopolitical competition with multiple potential flashpoints: from unresolved territorial disputes; to nuclear proliferation and miscalculation; to climate change and non-state threats from terrorism and SOC. It is on the frontline of new security challenges, including in cyberspace. Much of the UK’s trade with Asia depends on shipping that goes through a range of Indo-Pacific choke points. Preserving freedom of navigation is therefore essential to the UK’s national interests. We already work closely with regional partners and will do more through persistent engagement by our armed forces and our wider security capacity-building.”

So what are they going to do?

“Deploy more of our naval assets across the world to protect shipping lanes and uphold freedom of navigation. The Joint Maritime Security Centre will support this, strengthening operational maritime coordination across government. The Royal Navy’s Maritime Component Command in Bahrain will continue to ensure the flow of trade in the Gulf, including through support to part of the new International Maritime Security Construct.”

China claims practically the whole 1.3 million-square-mile South China Sea as its sovereign territory, and it has blamed foreign warships for escalating tensions in the region.

Freedom of navigation operations are routinely conducted by the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia to counter what the West refers to as “attempts by coastal states to unjustly limit access to the seas” and HMS Queen Elizabeth’s Carrier Strike Group is simply another instance of these efforts.

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John Diwell
John Diwell
1 month ago

China cannot be bullied or defeated militarily in its own backyard. Losing face is. something they will not contemplate. Thinking otherwise is naive.and fails to understand them. In the medium term Taiwan and the Senkakus will be taken. Long-term competitive disadvantage would weaken them, but they have already been planning decades ahead and have large degrees of control of the world’s resources, several major economic sectors, and client states. The use of mind control techniques is being intensified in its own population. We have to make equally long-term plans in conjunction with our allies in the free world to counter… Read more »

expat
expat
1 month ago
Reply to  John Diwell

Some would argue they also have mind control over parts of the western population through social media. They are now investing in AI to automate this and intensify it.

Frank62
Frank62
1 month ago
Reply to  expat

That & their cyber offensives against Western infrastructue are clear present dangers & clearly hostile. Only paranoid meglomaniac dictatordhips feel threatened by the freedom of others.

Frank62
Frank62
1 month ago
Reply to  John Diwell

But it’s not “its own backyard”. Mostly it’s the backyard of other states that PRC seeks to steal away from them plus denying FON to international waters. It’s like France or Norway claiming the whole North sea beyond every other nations coastal waters. It’s utterly outrageous. That claim is the escalation along with creating islands on reefs, destroying them in the process, & trying to bar anyone passing in these areas the PRC has no right to in the first place. I may as well claim the entire road my house is on disregarding all the 100s or 1,000s of… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Frank62
John Diwell
John Diwell
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank62

Fair comment, the reference to China’s own backyard was in respect to relative proximity, and was not meant to imply that China has any right to all the area of sea that it claims in defiance of international law. China wants all that area of sea for: * resources, being minerals, fossil fuels and fishing; * further control of trade routes; * keeping potential enemies further from the borders of mainland China; * projecting its power further and intimidating other countries, even Australia. China cannot be stopped from taking Taiwan, which is only a few minutes’ flying time from the mainland and only a… Read more »

John
John
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank62

China has published 2 plans. 1st Island Ring, (conceived by in the early 80s) which is now complete with man-made islands. The 2nd Island Ring to be completed by 2050, will entail taking over the southernmost Japanese islands to have a clear gateway to the Pacific. China has been surveying all the Benham Rise, and since completing the man-made islands, finished building the world’s largest dredger. So what will that be for? A Chinese Admiral said the Benham Rise belongs to them and not the Philippines, so my guess is more islands constructed there. Plus they will never allow the… Read more »

Frank62
Frank62
1 month ago
Reply to  John

Thanks John, that is chilling. It makes a serious confrontation sooner rather than later essential to check them walking over other nations. Exporting CCP repression is a serious evil that must be opposed resolutely. Seizing Japanese territory would certainly wake the world up if making the Phillipines a PRC colony didn’t. The PRC is “Big Brother” on steroids.Tankfully the regional neighbours are building up their defences to counter.

John
John
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank62

Now there is talk of letting the US back into Subic Bay, but a lot of Filipino politicians are now in the pockets of the Chinese, so there would be still a lot of opposition, although “the people” would welcome them wholeheartedly.

John
John
1 month ago
Reply to  John

It was left wing Filipino groups and “nationalists” that got the US kicked out of the Philippines on the pretext of “no foreign bases”. It all sounded very right and proper at the time, but with hindsight it is obvious that China had a finger in there, prompting, pushing and organising opposition to the US presence. Once gone, they have had a free hand, which is just what they wanted. With Obama doing nothing over China breaking the Scarborough Shoal Agreement, China has been left with the idea they can do anything and nobody will say, or do, anything.

Madel Patawaran
Madel Patawaran
1 month ago

That’s a welcome development so that freedom of navigation in the high seas can be maintained sgainst those who do not follow UNCLOS principles. Thanks Britain😊

Mohawk Chris
Mohawk Chris
1 month ago

The British cartographers made an innocent mistake by naming the sea as the South China Sea in the early times. Hope the name would now be changed to The ASEAN Sea. Which is more appropriate,with most ASEAN countries facing that sea.

Frank62
Frank62
1 month ago
Reply to  Mohawk Chris

Will Eire claim the whole Irish sea or England deny access to everyone else in the English channel? Of course not! PRC is acting illegally but trying to bully its way out of it.

David Steeper
David Steeper
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank62



John
John
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank62

Yet China sailed the English Channel on a visit to Russia. It sails the Malacca Straights, yet thinks other countries should keep out of the SCS and Taiwan Straights. It will have to be “taught a lesson” as they frequently say when threatening others.

Jess
Jess
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank62

Likewise with the Indian Ocean. Can India deprive all other ships gaining entry into the Indian Ocean. Except with an entry fee into the Indian Ocean, because that Ocean has an Indian name. LoL! So Commie China is frauding over the name South China Sea.

Darren hall
Darren hall
1 month ago

“and it feels it needs to be involved.”

Nice… or do we in fact have an obligation to the countries that we have had a relationship with for the past few hundred years?

Regardless of Britain’s colonial past, we now have a standing commitment to other nations, a commitment that we must stand up to.

Closing our eyes to Chinese aggression now, is no different to our forefathers closing their eyes to German aggression, in the 30’s…

Some people say History plays out in a Loop…
Are we again at the same point our ancesters were at in 1936?

expat
expat
1 month ago
Reply to  Darren hall

UK and other nations showing willing act as deterrent. China knows it may have to contend with the US when it goes after Taiwan. But if it understand UK, Netherlands, Germany and others are will to intervene perhaps they may think its to big a risk. Germany didn’t bargain for a war with USA in 1936 had the US made it clear from the start then history may have been different.

Darren hall
Darren hall
1 month ago
Reply to  expat

Agree, Germany never foresaw the USA as a threat.

Let us hope the CPC can see the combined forces as a threat…

The hardest thing is our reliance on their good… We need to rediscover manufacturing here in the west…

Allen Jones
Allen Jones
1 month ago
Reply to  Darren hall

Here we go again weapons o

Dern
Dern
1 month ago
Reply to  Darren hall

Ummm… you might want to brush up on your History. Hitler saw the US as one of his arch rivals, which is why he declared war on the US.

John
John
1 month ago
Reply to  Darren hall

It is laughable in a way, that China holds up Japan as the consistent “bogey man”. Yet, what China is doing now is little different to what Japan did in the 1920s and Germany in the 1930s.

Darren hall
Darren hall
1 month ago
Reply to  John

Yep, I agree.
No country on Earth is perfect.
All countries have skeletons in their closets.

What Japan did to China and Korea is History.

Modern Japan, like modern Germany, is not that country anymore.
The same as Britain is not a colonial empire anymore…

But, as long as you have a an ‘enemy’ you can distract the population and literally get away with murder… Just like the Argentine Junta in 82…

Allen Jones
Allen Jones
1 month ago

Here we go again weapons of mass destruction good luck china

James
James
1 month ago

The strike group never got closet to the artificial islands which pleased China and called on others to follow Britain example. That is a Clear retreat from what we saw with HMS Defender and Crimea.

dave12
dave12
1 month ago
Reply to  James

Not really, HMS Defender had right of passage in the black the same as there RN had right of way in the china sea , its just your buddies the russians made a song and dance about it and did nothing with not leg to stand on lol.

Darren hall
Darren hall
1 month ago
Reply to  James

True…

But imagine if we declared the ”English Channel” off limits to all, because it has the word English in it?

Then how would China react and what would happen if we opposed their sailing through international waters?

They had Zero choice but to sit back and watch.
The day they fire on another countries vessel will be a very bad day for humanity….

John
John
1 month ago

Make no mistake, China is going to start WWIII. Xi has made public speeches promising a New Chinese Empire. It has border disputes with all its neighbours and some far away. It has sanctioned lesser officials as saying China “owns” the Ryukyu Islands, Guam, large parts of India, and the latest is to say all the Central Asian Republics belong to China. If Xi is not removed by an internal coup, the world is sliding towards another major conflict.

Peter S
Peter S
1 month ago

” Britain is capable of deploying serious firepower to back up its obligations in the region”. We have no obligations in the region beyond a commitment to consult with friendly powers. Nor do we have serious firepower. The CSG uses a large part of the available fleet so there is little to back it up. Britain could at most play a small part in a multi national effort to confront Chinese expansion. UK forces have been reduced to little more than a self defence force. It is foolish to think they can make a major difference on the global stage.… Read more »

Esteban
Esteban
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter S

The UK has not even done FON demonstration on this trip.. And yes the answer is to destroy China economically. And the West has that power in their hands.

Peter S
Peter S
1 month ago
Reply to  Esteban

I’m not sure the West can destroy China’s economy but it can make things much more difficult for a regime that has to maintain economic growth to keep its population subservient.
China refuses to accept international norms ( including rulings on its claims to the South China sea)so it cannot complain if it is denied the benefits of international agreements on trade.
There is no reason why multinational FON missions should not continue. But by themselves I doubt they will achieve much.

EnglishElectricLightning
EnglishElectricLightning
26 days ago

I’m a new boy on here. I have no naval background, but have read and marvelled at the expertise in the comments on these pages for a couple of years, now – not to mention being baffled at some of the shorthand and TLA used. I’m a genuinely interested layman. What I’ve been wondering, is this. The main CSG21 Group looks like it’s taken a fairly uncontentious route through the SCS and has headed out to Guam. But HMS Artful went to South Korea. Presumably, she took a more substantial route through the SCS to get there, to the chagrin… Read more »

Last edited 26 days ago by EnglishElectricLightning