Britain’s new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth is taking part in a massive NATO exercise in the Mediterranean this week ahead of its eight-month maiden voyage to Asia designed to counter the security challenges posed by the Chinese regime.
The war games, dubbed Steadfast Defender 21, are aimed at simulating the 30-nation military alliance’s response to an attack on any one of its members.
But this is just the beginning of the Carrier Strike Group’s eight-month maiden voyage to the Far East, during which it will cross through the South China Sea in a signal to Beijing that sea lanes must remain open.
Commodore Steve Moorhouse, Commander of the Carrier Strike Group, said the deployment will be “a hugely powerful statement” of Britain’s readiness to defend Western interests.
“It shows that we are a global navy and wanting to be back out there,” he said.
“We’ll not only be exercising militarily but also supporting the government’s wider objectives in the region,” which is “an increasingly important part of the world.”
He said he hopes that “this deployment will be the first of a more persistent presence for the United Kingdom in that region.”
Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO Secretary-General, said the alliance doesn’t regard China as an adversary, but has had to react to the shifting balance of power as the Chinese regime keeps increasing its defence budget.
“We know that China will soon have the biggest economy in the world, they already have the second-largest defence budget and the biggest navy in the world. And of course, this matters for NATO and NATO allies. And we need to take that into account when we continue to modernise and adapt NATO,” he told reporters.
Stoltenberg said the drill highlighted the Western allies’ willingness to cooperate on security issues.
“It sends a message of NATO’s resolve and our capability and willingness to defend all allies against any threat. And it also sends a message of how NATO allies can operate together.
“This is a British aircraft carrier, the Queen Elizabeth, with fifth-generation aircraft from the United States, with U.S. marines and a Dutch frigate helping to protect it. So it also demonstrates how we operate together, bring allies together.”
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.