Chinese President Xi Jinping will travel to Hong Kong next week to “attend a meeting celebrating the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to the motherland and the inaugural ceremony of the sixth-term government,” according to China’s Xinhua news agency. John Lee will be sworn in as Hong Kong Chief Executive, replacing Carrie Lam who has held the post since July 2017. The trip will be Xi’s first outside of mainland China since January 2020. As the number of COVID-19 cases in Hong Kong have been rising in recent weeks, it was unclear whether Xi would visit the city. But with the 25th anniversary of the handover coinciding with the swearing in of a new Hong Kong Chief Executive, China’s leader obviously decided a day trip to the city is worth the risk.
China’s military has called the recent transit of a US Navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft over Taiwan Strait as being a deliberate attempt to disrupt the regional situation and endangered peace and stability. On Friday the US Poseidon flew over the strait separating the Chinese mainland and Taiwan. The flight came one day after Taiwan was forced to scramble fighters to intercept twenty-two Chinese aircraft operating in the Taiwanese air defense identification zone. All of this activity around Taiwan Strait comes days after the US government rejected a Chinese claim that the strait is not international waters.
Earlier this week the first of the Royal Air Force’s new P-8A Poseidon MPA (maritime patrol aircraft) touched down at Kinloss, Scotland. It is the first of nine Poseidon aircraft purchased by the Ministry of Defense and marks Great Britain’s return to the fixed wing ASW (anti-submarine warfare) game. The RAF and Royal Navy have been without shore based MPAs for over a decade following the retirement of the Nimrod in 2009. During the eleven year period between then and now, Britain was forced to rely on its allies to provide ASW coverage around the British Isles, and in the North Atlantic. The gap in coverage came at a critical time, as tensions with Russia rose following the annexation of Crimea, and the Ukrainian intervention in 2014. Russian naval operations in the North Atlantic and Norwegian Sea increased shortly afterwards, reemphasizing the importance of the waters to NATO.
This is a step in the right direction for the Brits though. Over the past three years or so, Britain has become serious about redressing their military deficiencies. The British armed services had become a hollow shell as weapons systems were cut, and units disbanded in order to foot the bill for Britain’s commitments overseas such as in Afghanistan. Like many other European powers, British military power diminished. The Royal Navy was especially hard hit by the budget and force cuts and is presently rectifying the situation. The final three Astute class attack submarines are under construction, as well as the first of the new Dreadnought class SSBNs. On the surface side, the second Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales was recently commissioned. The first two City class frigates are also under construction and will help enhance the escort forces for the carriers.
This is certainly progress considering how much combat power had been gouged out of the British military between 2005 and 2014 or so. A lot of work still needs to be done but the Brits are moving in the right direction.
With BALTOPS 2019, a major NATO maritime exercise set to begin in two days, it should come as no surprise to see Russian naval and air units actively harassing their US counterparts in other parts of the world. This has been the pattern in recent years. In the leadup to a major exercise, or when NATO or the United States make a military move that Russia regards as unfriendly, incidents of harassment generally begin and last for a few days.
Today’s incident took place in the Philippine Sea, The Russian Udaloy class destroyer Admiral Vinogradov almost collided with the US cruiser USS Chancellorsville. The Russian destroyer made an “unsafe maneuver” placing itself only 50-100 feet away from the US warship. “This unsafe action forced Chancellorsville to execute all engines back full and to maneuver to avoid collision,” 7th Fleet explained the consequences of the Russian action in a released statement. Russia has insisted it was the Chancellorsville that hindered passage of its destroyer. Predictably, each side has dismissed the other’s version as being propaganda.
This was the second harassment incident between US and Russian forces in recent days. Earlier this week, a US Navy P-8 Poseidon patrol aircraft was intercepted by a Russian Su-35 fighter off the Syrian coast. The Russian plane undertook a series of dangerous maneuvers in close proximity to the P-8, though fortunately no collision took place. The US has lodged a formal complaint over that incident, although it is not expected to make a difference. These dangerous harassments will likely continue in the future.