Large UK warship docks here in sign of engagement with region

It arrives after sailing through 40 nations, with 2 more on their way to Indo-Pacific

One of the two largest warships ever built for the British Royal Navy docked in Changi yesterday, carrying on its deck F-35B jets and helicopters, and accompanied by other warships farther out at sea.

The HMS Queen Elizabeth carrier, on its maiden operational deployment, is here after sailing through 40 countries in the Mediterranean and the Indo-Pacific in what is the most significant show of maritime and air power to leave the United Kingdom in a generation.

Its movement comes amid fraught tensions in the region, with the South China Sea subjected to intensified wrangling between various countries in recent years.

China criticised Britain for "still living in its colonial days", and warned the UK carrier strike group, which crossed the South China Sea, against carrying out "improper acts".

At a press conference on board HMS Queen Elizabeth yesterday, the commander of the carrier strike group, Commodore Steve Moorhouse said that conduct between Chinese and UK ships had seen nothing untoward.

"It is a big piece of international water, so lots of nations were flying and sailing there. There was lots of Chinese activity, but it was absolutely safe, professional, and due distances and ranges were kept."

While here, the 65,000-tonne Queen Elizabeth will host Singapore officials and industry leaders, as well as a virtual question-and-answer session between the ship's female engineers and Singaporean girls interested in careers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics sector.

The UK, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand are also marking the 50th anniversary of the Five Power Defence Arrangements, established in 1971 when the British left the island state.

The agreement states that the five powers are to consult one another immediately, in the event of an armed attack or such a threat against any one of them, to decide next steps.

Yesterday, British High Commissioner to Singapore Kara Owen said the vessel's stay here - it leaves today - is a short but significant one.

"HMS Queen Elizabeth's visit demonstrates our commitment to invest much more deeply in our relationships with each other. One of the key themes of our (vision) is how we intend to strengthen our ties with the region, establishing a greater and more consistent presence that we have done in recent years," Ms Owen said.

Two more British warships, the HMS Tamar and HMS Spey, are also on their way to the Indo-Pacific for more permanent assignments. Drug smuggling and other illegal activities are among some of the more pressing challenges, Ms Owen suggested.

Last Saturday, the Republic of Singapore Air Force's F-16 fighters and the UK's F-35B jets participated in a simulated air combat training and formation flying exercise in the southern reaches of the South China Sea. The Republic of Singapore Navy also conducted a manoeuvring exercise with the UK carrier strike group.

The deployment of HMS Queen Elizabeth here is widely seen as a marked step up in the UK's engagement with the Asia-Pacific.

The warship, which can carry up to 40 aircraft, set sail in May, participating in a range of activities with partners and allies en route. It will sail over 26,000 nautical miles in this deployment.

Commodore Moorhouse said: "The group's presence also demonstrates our support for the freedom of navigation passage through vital trading routes and our commitment to an international system of norms that benefits all countries."

Yesterday, the UK's Minister for Asia Amanda Milling and Singapore's Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Sim Ann met  for various trade discussions.

Correction note: A previous version of this story said UK's Minister for Asia Amanda Milling met Singapore's Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Sim Ann on board the HMS Queen Elizabeth. This is inaccurate. They met at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We are sorry for the error. 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2021, with the headline 'Large UK warship docks here in sign of engagement with region'. Subscribe