U.K. invites Australia to participate in joint navy exercises in Pacific

Joint exercise may include freedom of navigation exercise in South China Sea

HMS Queen Elizabeth. (Flickr user: InfoGibraltar)

HMS Queen Elizabeth. (Flickr user: InfoGibraltar)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – The U.K. navy has invited the Australian navy to participate in joint military exercises in the Pacific, which may include a "freedom of navigation" exercise in the South China Sea, reported the Sydney Morning Herald.

The U.K. navy's tour of the Pacific will include the HMS Queen Elizabeth, the largest warship ever built by the U.K.

The plans for a joint exercise is reported to be an effort to push back against China's increasingly assertive behavior in Southeast Asia. China has pursued a policy of militarizing the South China Sea, leading to a joint statement by Australia, Japan and the U.S. opposing unilateral action in the region after the Shangri-La Dialogue in June 2018.

The suggestion of a joint exercise in the Pacific was outlined after meetings between the foreign and defense ministers of both countries earlier this week.

"We are very much hoping and going to work together on deploying HMS Queen Elizabeth to the Pacific and hopefully sailing side by side with Australian vessels," said Gavin Williamson, U.K. Secretary of State for Defence said in a press conference.

From left to right: Jeremy Hunt, Julie Bishop, Gavin Williamson and Marise Payne. (Image courtesy of U.K. Ministry of Defence)

Williamson did not say whether the HMS Queen Elizabeth would conduct a pass through the South China Sea, but former U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said that is was on the agenda.

"One of the first things we will do with the two new colossal aircraft carriers that we have just built is send them on a freedom of navigation operation to this area,[South China Sea]" said Johnson in July last year, reported the Sydney Morning Herald.

In March 2018, the U.K. navy sent an anti-submarine warship through the South China Sea to assert its navigation rights.

At the joint press conference after the meeting, U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that the U.K. was opening more embassies in the Asia-Pacific in a bid to increase the European country's presence in Asia.

The potential joint exercise in the Pacific is some years away, as HMS Queen Elizabeth continues to be prepared for full service, reports say.