U.K. Warship Enters South China Sea Despite Beijing Warnings

The United Kingdom aircraft carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, entered the South China Sea Tuesday and arrived in Singapore despite numerous direct warnings from Beijing to stay out of the region.

The U.K. warship's entry into the South China Sea is just the latest amplification of tension between the Chinese military and British allies including the United States and Australia. And the move has reinvigorated debate about China's claim to the nearly 1.3 million-square-mile area as part of its sovereign territory—something Beijing says it has rights to as part of the Law of the Sea Convention. Last week, China criticized NBC's Olympics coverage for showing an "incomplete map" of its territories by not including Taiwan or the South China Sea as being under its ownership.

But a 2016 ruling by the International Court of Justice in the Hague rejected China's claim and allowed the U.S., U.K. and Australia to conduct routine freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) in parts of the South China Sea.

Following that 2016 ruling, the British warship ignored Beijing's warnings and entered the South China Sea to carry out a FONOP exercise.

"The exercise, to advance interoperability and coordination between the two navies, builds on the deep and long-standing defence partnership between the UK and Singapore. It was also the first time that ships from the Royal Navy's 5th generation Carrier Strike Group exercised alongside the RSN," the U.K. Ministry of Defence said in a statement Tuesday.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin joined the British in condemning China's continued claims to the entire South China Sea region.

"Beijing's claim to the vast majority of the South China Sea has no basis in international law. That assertion treads on the sovereignty of states in the region. We continue to support the region's coastal states in upholding their rights under international law," the U.S. defense secretary said Tuesday.

But Chinese officials rejected the entry into the region by British and American warships, with Defense Spokesman Tan Kefei telling the South China Morning Post Tuesday: "The Chinese side believes that the South China Sea should not become a sea of great power rivalry dominated by weapons and warships. The real source of militarization in the South China Sea comes from countries outside this region sending their warships thousands of kilometres from home to flex muscles. The Chinese military will take necessary measures to safeguard its sovereignty, security and development interest as well as peace and stability in the South China Sea."

Newsweek reached out to the U.S. State Department for any additional remarks about the ongoing South China Sea disputes Tuesday morning.

US Navy South China Sea
Following a 2016 ruling by the Hague, the British warship ignored Beijing's warnings and entered the South China Sea to carry out a freedom of navigation operations exercise. Above, U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornets fighters and an EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft on board USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier in the South China Sea on its way to Singapore on October 16, 2019 . Catherine LAI/AFP via Getty Images