South China Sea: Chinese Air Force carries out training
The UK vessel will join Japanese and US navies in the South China Sea to conduct freedom of navigation protocols in the disputed waters. China has already warned it would take “necessary measures to safeguard its sovereignty” ahead of the joint mission. Now experts say China has brought forward the launch of its DF-17 cruise missiles to counter the maritime military exercises. The damage would come at a great cost as the multi-million pound missiles have the potential to devastate a multi-billion pound asset, the commentators said.
China’s DF-17 missiles have a range of 1,500 miles and can travel at a staggering Mach 10, or 7,600mph.
Dr Sidharth Kaushal, from the Royal United Services Institute, said the missiles are relatively low cost to produce, meaning the Chinese military could launch multiple at any target.
He touted the hypersonic missiles as a “game changer”, and suggested it would most likely destroy the HMS Queen Elizabeth.
The expert added: “At the absolute minimum it would end its mission – but in all probability sink it.”
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Dr Kaushal, speaking to the Sun Online, said the DF-17’s pose a “substantial challenge” to naval forces.
He added: “If directed properly it could kill a multi-billion pound asset like an aircraft carrier but it only costs in the millions.
“So the attacker can afford to waste a few missiles, whereas the defender faces the problem that even one hit to a carrier can be catastrophic.
“If an attack fails it’s the loss of a missile costing a few million pounds which is not great but China has been developing a pretty large inventory of missiles.
“With a hypersonic because it can change course quite rapidly in flight it’s difficult for defenders to identify its likely target.”
Bill Hayton, Associate Fellow with the Asia-Pacific Programme at Chatham House, suggested that while both sides will look to avoid conflict, there is a slim chance tensions could erupt.
He said to the Sun Online one “likely scenario” could see the Chinese send a military vessel disguised as a fishing boat to shadow the carrier to “engineer an embarrassing confrontation”.
Mr Hayton added: “They would say we’ve harassed an innocent fishing boat when in fact it’s a navy ship in a different paint job. It’s definitely volatile and there’s confrontations going on every week which we don’t hear about.
“It will be a test of discipline for the navy, a test of discipline and command and seamanship and will put UK-China relations to the test.”
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HMS Queen Elizabeth will join US and Japanese vessels near Ryukyu Islands “as soon as early” this year, according to Kyodo News.
Tan Kefei was asked in January about the UK’s latest aircraft carrier, with the Chinese defence ministry spokesman condemning the deployment.
He said: “The Chinese side believes that the South China Sea should not become a sea of great power rivalry dominated by weapons and warships.”
Mr Tan then added the “real source of militarisation in the South China Sea comes from countries outside this region sending their warships thousands of kilometres from home to flex muscles”.
Xi Jinping, chairman of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, urged his troops to achieve “full-time combat readiness” at the start of the year.
He also said that current “frontline military struggles” should be used to maintain troops’ preparedness, and that the army must remain ready to “act at any second”.
In contrast, the UK, US and Japan have all condemned China for their claims to the South China Sea.
A joint statement from UK Foreign Minister Dominic Raab, Defence Minister Ben Wallace and their Japanese counterparts Toshimitsu Motegi and Nobuo Kishi said: “The four ministers reaffirmed the importance of upholding freedom of navigation and overflight above the South China Sea and urged all parties to exercise self-restraint and refrain from activities likely to raise tensions.”
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