Britain is ramping up its stand-off with China by deploying its only aircraft carrier to the South China Sea

HMS Queen ElizabethBritain's new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth arrives in New York on October 19, 2018.Getty

  • Britain is deploying its flagship aircraft carrier to the South China Sea, with British and US F-35 fighter jets aboard, in the UK's biggest mission yet to the region.
  • It escalates a tense situation, as China fiercely asserts that the sea is its territory, and that other naval vessels sailing there is an assault on their rights.
  • The UK and US disagree, saying that the South China Sea is international water, which anybody can sail through.
  • Britain and the US have been conducting naval exercises in the region for years, and often provoke angry responses from Beijing.
  • Last summer, Britain sailed HMS Albion, an amphibious assault ship, through the contested waterway. HMS Queen Elizabeth is the first aircraft carrier to be sent, a significant upgrade.

Britain has announced plans to send its newest and most powerful aircraft carrier to the South China Sea, intensifying an already-tense stand-off with China over who controls the waterway.

UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson announced the deployment of HMS Queen Elizabeth, the Royal Navy's new aircraft carrier, in a speech Monday morning.

The mission, announced at the the Royal United Services Institute think tank in London on Monday, marks the most significant deployment yet of Royal Navy assets to the South China Sea.

In August 2018, China criticised the "provocative actions" of HMS Albion who sailed close to the disputed Paracel islands in the South China Sea, which China says are its territory.

The Queen Elizabeth's mission is likely to provoke a similar response.

hms queen elizabethBritain's new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth arrives in New York on October 19, 2018.Getty

Williamson said that Royal Air Force F-35 fighter jets will be aboard the Queen Elizabeth, along with F-35s from the US military.

The Queen Elizabeth, which cost some $4.5 billion, recently qualified for full-fledged service, after completing training with F-35B jets near Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, in September 2018.

After conducting the South China Sea mission, Williamson said the Queen Elizabeth would move on to the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

Both the US and UK navies have had close calls with China in the South China Sea.

Read more: I was invited on the Royal Navy's newest and most powerful aircraft carrier - here's what it was like

One US destroyer, on a freedom-of-navigation exercise in October 2018, sailed close to Chinese-occupied territory and passed a Chinese destroyer as close as 45 feet.

The US and UK conducted their first join maneuvers in the region since 2010 on January 11 2019, when Royal Navy frigate HMS Argyll joined the US Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell on a communications drill.

China claims that the South China Sea is its territory, Neighboring Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam have rival claims over it.

Read More: China moves 'ship killer' missiles into firing range as US warships infuriate Beijing in the South China Sea

The sea is a vital and highly sort after trade route - about $3 trillion of ship-borne trade passes through the area every year.

US South China SeaThe aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68), the guided-missile cruiser USS Chosin (CG 65), the guided-missile destroyers USS Sampson (DDG 102) and USS Pinkney (DDG 91), and the guided-missile frigate USS Rentz (FFG 46) operate in formation in the South China Sea. US Navy

The same day as Williamson made the announcement, US destroyers USS Spruance and USS Preble sailed close to the Spratly Islands, which was condemned by China.

Read more: Fan Bingbing is cheerleading for China over the South China Sea after the government disappeared her

Chinese state media cited a government spokesperson saying the mission "undermined the peace, security, and order" of the region.

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