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Royal Navy Carrier Enters the Pacific for the First Time in Decades

strait of malacca
HMS Queen Elizabeth passes through the Strait of Malacca, accompanied by the Malaysian Navy (Royal Navy)

Published Aug 5, 2021 5:15 PM by The Maritime Executive

The UK Royal Navy's first full-scale aircraft carrier in a generation has entered the Pacific, marking Great Britain's new commitment to maritime security in the Far East in an era of great power competition. Independent reports suggest that carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth has been operating in the South China Sea since last week. 

"The arrival of the Carrier Strike Group in Southeast Asia is a clear sign that the UK is ready to work with friends and partners, new and old, to strengthen the security and freedoms upon which we mutually depend," said Commodore Steve Moorhouse, commander of the UK Carrier Strike Group, in a statement Thursday. 

The task group, led by Queen Elizabeth, passed through the Strait of Malacca and met up with vessels of the Thai, Malaysian and Singaporean navies for passing exercises and maneuvers along the way. Meanwhile, the Royal Fleet Auxiliary tanker RFA Tidespring made a port call in Singapore to take on supplies.

"The Indo-Pacific is critical to the UK’s economy and security, and HMS Richmond is proud to be playing our part in building regional partnerships, particularly as the UK seeks to become an ASEAN dialogue partner in the future," said Cdr. Hugh Botterill, the commanding officer of HMS Richmond. "Though any direct engagement was curtailed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we enjoyed this brief professional collaboration.”

HMS Queen Elizabeth passed through the Strait of Malacca with Malaysian frigate KD Lekiu before meeting up with Singapore frigate RSS Intrepid, corvette Unity and landing platform dock Resolution.

Queen Elizabeth is now headed north, accompanied by HMS Defender, according to the Royal Navy. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has reported that the carrier strike group kept its distance from Chinese-occupied islands while it was in the South China Sea; Beijing held up this decision as an endorsement of its disputed territorial claims and an example for others to follow. 

“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 ministry said.