In a further escalation of military tensions around China’s strategic environment, Washington, London and Beijing are facing provocations in the form of naval exercises this week.
The stages are the usual: the Taiwan Strait, which separates the Communist dictatorship from the democratic island that the Chinese consider a rebellious province, and the disputed South China Sea, of which Beijing claims 85% of the waters.
On Monday (26), the attack group led by the new British aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, arrived in the South China Sea. Accompanied by eight other ships and carrying 18 state-of-the-art F-35B fighters, he will practice in the region over the next few days.
This is a direct provocation for the Chinese, used to seeing American ships and Washington allies like Japan and Australia, in the region. It also incorporates a dual policy statement.
First, London wants to show the world that it has regained offensive naval capabilities, despite the fact that the R $ 21 billion shipbuilding program is seen as unsustainable in the medium term due to its high operating cost by some. analysts.
Second, the British are showing they are on the side of the United States in Cold War 2.0 against China. One fleet destroyer and 10 of the 18 F-35Bs are American.
London is particularly upset by Beijing’s crackdown on Hong Kong, its former colony. Evaluate that Beijing tore up the 1984 treaty which agreed to restore 1997 with guarantees of freedom for 50 years.
Beijing’s reaction, which sees Hong Kong as an internal affair, was determined on Thursday (29), with the immediate completion of two naval exercises in the region at the same time.
The risk, as always in these cases, is that forces will inadvertently cross or that coastal waters will be breached.
Last month, Russia fired warning shots at one of the ships of the Queen Elizabeth Fleet, which deployed for an exercise near Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014.
According to a Peking University study center, the United States has stepped up actions to affirm that the waters of the South China Sea are international, with 3 operations in 2016, 4 in 2017, 5 in 2018, 8 in 2019 and 9 in 2020.
At the other nerve center of the region, the Taiwan Strait, the provocation first came from China, uncomfortable with the comings and goings of American military planes on the island to bring the authorities into visit.
In addition to the usual actions with military planes to test the reactivity of Taiwanese fighters, an almost weekly and growing event this year, Beijing has increased naval exercises simulating amphibious landings and land conquests.
It is a clear message of intention. While analysts are wary of the dictatorship’s real intention to invade Taiwan, given that it could lead to war with the United States, which by agreement protects the island, Beijing’s goal is to recall that this is possible.
Some experts, on the other hand, believe the training is real. A survey by the Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post draws attention, according to which there were 9 such exercises in 2019, 15 in 2020 and 7 so far this year.
The latter was broadcast by state television CCTV on Tuesday (27), and was particularly detailed: the use of drones, missile attacks and the landing of troops executed by forces based in Xiamen, southeast China. .
The response was then American, which sent Wednesday (28) in the Strait of Taiwan an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, which uses cruise missiles and constitutes the backbone of its naval force.
The USS Benfold carried out the so-called transit of the region, which at its narrowest point is 130 km wide, without incident. Two weeks ago, he did a similar exercise near the Parcel Islands, which the Chinese began to militarize in 2014 and which are claimed by Beijing, Hanoi and Taipei.
On Thursday came the usual protest from the Eastern Theater Command of the Chinese Armed Forces, claiming that the passage is a provocation aimed at “destroying the peace”, in a pun on the type of ship, a destroyer (destroyer, destroyer in the more obsolete naval definition).