Is Britain overplaying its hand with its proposal to deploy a new aircraft carrier in the Far East?

Military chiefs plan to send HMS Queen Elizabeth to the region after it enters service next year, and is expected to conduct exercises with allies in the region where China lays claim to the disputed South China Sea.

“How many countries take seriously the UK’s military strength right now? Britain needs a realistic view of itself instead of biting off more than it can chew,” wrote Zhang Junshe, a senior research fellow at the PLA Naval Military Studies Research Institute, in the Global Times, a party-run newspaper.

He said that the purpose of the deployment made little strategic difference to Beijing and was designed instead as a political sop to the US. He added that China’s advances meant that it could no longer be bullied militarily as it was in the Opium Wars of the 19th century, during which Hong Kong was ceded to Britain.

“It [the United Kingdom] should know its limitations before attempting to strong-arm China, which is no longer a weak military country to be bullied as it was during the Opium War.”The South China Sea, which Beijing claims as its own, is rich in resources and vital to international shipping. China has reclaimed atolls and militarised several islands in recent years despite competing competing claims to sovereignty by at least six Asian governments to parts of the territory.

Two US nuclear-powered aircraft carriers have been conducting joint exercises in the area this month.

“Whereas the US nuclear-powered carriers, with displacement over 100,000 tonnes, have repeatedly come to the South China Sea but failed to frighten China, the HMS Queen Elizabeth won’t be a deterrence to China even if it is sent to the Far East,” Mr Zhang argued.

Another Chinese state military analyst, Zhang Zhaozhong, at the PLA National Defence University, evoked Force Z, a British naval squadron that was sent to the Far East during the Second World War. The Prince of Wales, a battleship, and Repulse, a battlecruiser, were both sunk in the South China Sea by Japanese aircraft in 1941.

“It looks certain that the British have not learnt a lesson from Force Z,” argued Mr Zhang, who is unrelated to Zhang Junshe.

“The British empire that could knock open the doors of other countries with a few battleships has long gone,” he wrote. “Today’s UK is no longer the empire on which the sun never sets from the 19th century. It cannot even compare to the British nation of 1941.

“Now the UK wants to send a fleet to the Far East, making us wonder if we’d time-travelled back to 1880.”

* Paul Fisher is the Chair of Liberal Democrats in France.

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  • Apparently every US aircraft carrier requires 40 escort ships. How many destroyers and frigates do we have in RN? What will be the cost now of deployment.? What role will they play? Will we co-operate with US Japan South Korea Taiwan Singapore Australia New Zealand.Will they join us? Do we want to be so closely associated with US? Is this the new global Britain? So many questions will need to be answered first.

  • If China wanted to make a point, much more likely to hit a non-USA ship, so rather silly when we can’t even police the channel against migrants breaking into the country.

  • John Marriott 18th Jul '20 - 11:57am

    With no aircraft etc it certainly is. Mind you, living, I assume, in France, Mr Fisher should be used to ex colonial powers with pretensions of past glories attempting to throw their weight around in the world of super powers. ‘Vive la France! Vive l’Empereur Macron!’

  • The Captain

  • Whats changed?
    It was announced years back that HMS QE was going to be loaned to the Amercian’s for a couple of years, who would first use it in an exercise in the South China seas…

    The only question is whether the US (under Trump) will occupy one of the ‘islands’ as part of their exercise…

  • Liam Hillman 19th Jul '20 - 7:06am

    Obviously the prospect of HMS Queen Elizabeth patrolling the South China Sea is needling them, otherwise they wouldn’t be kicking up such a fuss about it.

  • The fact they are talking about it… Means it’s annoying them.

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