KEY POINTS

  • The military drill will begin Tuesday and end Thursday 
  • China also asked Britain to give up "gunboat diplomacy"
  • Chinese media mocked Britain that it is still living in colonial days

China launched a three-day naval drill in the South China Sea on Tuesday in an apparent rebuke to United Kingdom's carrier strike force sailing in the disputed waters, adding military might to a war of words that evoked the bitter legacy of colonialism.

The People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) maneuver between Guangdong’s Shangchuan Island and the South China Sea will begin Tuesday evening and last until July 29, Taiwan News  reported, quoting a Chinese official website. 

The drill coincides with Queen Elizabeth Carrier Strike Group's entry into the South China Sea, a move that angered Beijing. 

Though the U.K. has reiterated that it is not looking for confrontation and the carrier group is just looking to "exercise its right to freedom of navigation," Beijing is not amused, considering the frosty relationship between the two countries. 

On Tuesday, China lashed out against U.K. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace's statement challenging China's territorial claims. Calling Wallace's remarks "extremely irresponsible," a spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Britain urged the U.K. to give up "gunboat diplomacy," in a direct reference to colonial-era aggressions. 

The spokesman addressed Britain as a "former influential colonial power who used its military superiority to subdue Asian countries."

"Gunboat diplomacy no longer works in the 21st century. As a country outside the region, Britain should refrain from stretching its arms too far," the spokesperson warned. 

Chinese state-backed Global Times carried a scathing attack on the U.K., saying the latter "still lives in colonial days."

"It wants to provoke China, engage in the so-called freedom of navigation like the U.S. does, and demonstrate its military presence in the Asia-Pacific region," the report added.

Global Times called the Carrier Strike Group "worthless" and added that "the U.K. intends to use its navy to revive its old dream of an empire, but its overall strength cannot support such global ambitions." 

Both the countries have had a complex and long relationship extending to the colonial era. Though Britain did not colonize China in the way it did in India, it maintained a hold over Hong Kong. Its intervention in China, from the Opium War in the 1840s to the colonization of Hong Kong, was never welcome in China. 

 China has not forgiven Britain for the 1900's Battle of Peking which saw British Indian troops invading China, marking a legacy of humiliation. This also reflects in China’s animosity towards India as the majority of the troop members were Indian Sikhs. 

A gradual thaw in Sino-British relations over the last few decades was reversed last year over issues like Hong Kong and COVID-19. The U.K. said a Joint Declaration treaty with China over Hong Kong is now under threat because the territory has passed a new law that gives China sweeping new controls over the people of Hong Kong. China reacted sharply, asking Britain to "keep its colonial hands off Hong Kong." 

The Royal Navy's flagship, HMS Queen Elizabeth, leaves Portsmouth Naval Base on the south coast of England, on May 1 The Royal Navy's flagship, HMS Queen Elizabeth, leaves Portsmouth Naval Base on the south coast of England, on May 1 Photo: AFP / Adrian DENNIS