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The Royal Navy’s £3.1bn aircraft carrier this week carried out training exercises at sea before returning to base for supplies ahead of departing for major international exercises including the embarkation for the first time of both US and UK F35 Lightning jets. It is aiming to declare strike carrier capability later this year ahead of its first operational deployment in 2021.
But North East Scotland MP Andrew Bowie said the MoD had to “open its eyes to the glaringly obvious,” stressing that they should “step up to the plate” and deploy the aircraft carrier to the pacific.
Speaking to MPs in the House of Commons this week, the Tory warned the “size of the Chinese fleet and its rate of growth should be a clear warning of China’s determination to become a maritime superpower.”
He said China’s navy had expanded significantly since 2014, with the communist state’s fleet consisting of 335 vessels.
Mr Bowie, a former Naval Officer, added: “With the renewed rejection in July by both America and Australia of China’s territorial and maritime claims in the South China Sea, it is time that a truly global Britain steps up to the plate and meets this unwarranted and illegal encroachment with renewed assertiveness.
“Only last week, the People’s Liberation Army launched a series of medium-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear missiles considerable distances into the South China sea.”
China claims historical jurisdiction over about 80 percent of the sea, using a U-shaped “nine-dash line” that includes swathes of Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone, or EEZ, as well as the Paracel Islands and the Spratly Islands.
It also overlaps the EEZs of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
The United States in June has in response hardened its position on the South China Sea, where it has accused China of attempting to build a “maritime empire” in the potentially energy-rich waters but Beijing has denied this.
Economically, the South China Sea has been responsible for £2.33tn of global trade with a third of the world’s shipping passing through it each year.
At the same time, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday urged a peaceful way out of conflicts with China over the South China Sea and said international law must be followed.
President Duterte made the remarks in a meeting with visiting Chinese defence minister, Wei Fenghe, whose tour of four Southeast Asian countries coincides with some rhetorical sparring between the United States and China over the disputed waterway.
Duterte said in a statement: “We must always be guided by our commitments in international law. Any and all disputes must be resolved peacefully.”
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The Philippines, particularly its military, has a deep mistrust of China over what it sees as intrusions into its territory, bullying of its fishermen and denial of access to its energy resources.
PM Boris Johnson hinted at the deployment of HMS Queen Elizabeth to the region in 2017 but this week the MOD said that deployment details were still being finalised.
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