South China Sea: HMS Queen Elizabeth avoids challenging Beijing

The Royal Navy’s new flagship aircraft carrier kept away from Chinese-occupied militarised island outposts. For China, coming within 12 nautical miles is a violation of its sovereignty. The UK, Germany and France are trying to back the US without provoking China. India is also sending warships to the area.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – HMS Queen Elizabeth,  the United Kingdom’s newest aircraft carrier, and its strike group have avoided sailing into the waters around Chinese-occupied islands and atolls in the South China Sea, this according to the China’s Foreign Ministry.

For China, sailing within its 12-nautical-mile territorial claims would have been a violation of its sovereignty.

British ships left the South China Sea on Monday and entered the Philippine Sea. They are set to remain in East Asia until the end of the year for exercises with allies and partners.

So far, only the United States has directly challenged China's territorial claims in the South China Sea. 

According to the South China Morning Post, US warships have come withing 12 nautical miles of the islands and coral reefs more than 40 times since 2015. China has turned the latter into military outposts.

China claims nearly 90 per cent of the South China Sea, a position disputed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, Brunei and, to some extend, Indonesia, with US support.

In 2016, the International Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled that China's claims had no legal basis.

France also regularly sends warships to assert freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. Like the British, the French kept at a distance from the Chinese-controlled islands.

A German frigate is also set to sail near the disputed waters in December. 

According to several observers, the three European countries are trying to strike a difficult balance between the US request for cooperation against China and their desire not to rock trade relations with that country.

Meanwhile, the Indian government announced today that it is deploying a naval task force to the South China Sea and the Western Pacific over the next two months.

The goal is to expand security ties with "friendly" countries, sending a signal of its willingness to play a greater role in the US plan to contain China.

This announcement comes as India and China agreed to pull back their troops from the Galwan Valley. 

Located on the border between India’s Ladakh territory and Chinese Aksai Chin, the area was the scene of brutal fighting last summer between the two neighbouring powers.