UK Warships Did Not Sail Near Artificial Chinese Islands in South China Sea

China wants clarification from Germany over its planned naval deployment to the South China Sea

Britain’s new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth and its strike group did not sail near artificial Chinese islands while transiting the South China Sea, a sign that the UK chose to avoid a naval confrontation with Beijing.

China’s Foreign Ministry said the UK warships “didn’t enter within 12 nautical miles of Chinese islands in the South China Sea, according to [our] information.” The US frequently sails warships within 12 nautical miles of Chinese claimed islands to challenge Beijing’s claims.

“China hopes navy vessels of other nations abide by international law when sailing across the South China Sea, respect the rights and sovereignty of the coastal nations, and avoid actions that damage regional peace,” the Foreign Ministry statement said.

A source close to China’s People’s Liberation Army told The South China Morning Post that China’s military had been “satisfied with the British carrier strike group’s low-profile naval presentation.”

While the British avoided the islands, deploying such a large naval flotilla to the region was still meant as a message to China, as Western powers are increasingly focused on that part of the world. The HMS Queen Elizabeth’s deployment in Asia will continue until the end of the year. When it is over, the British plan to keep two warships in the region permanently.

Germany is also deploying a warship that is expected to sail through the South China Sea in mid-December. The Germans are following the lead of the US by sending a warship to the region to pressure China, but Berlin has requested to dock in Shanghai while in the region to appear less confrontational than its allies.

China said it has received Berlin’s request to dock in the Chinese city but seeks clarification from Beijing on the warship’s deployment. “Regarding this warship operation, the information released by the German side before and after is too confusing. China will make a decision after the German side has fully clarified the relevant intentions,” a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said.

Author: Dave DeCamp

Dave DeCamp is the news editor of, follow him on Twitter @decampdave.