China says it has launched multiple military drills as the United Kingdom’s aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth enters the South China Sea. It calls the ship’s visit “colonial”. It warns that if it “intrudes” on Chinese-claimed islands and reefs, it will be “expelled”.

“China will end the struggle between hegemony and anti-hegemony forces with the US. All other countries outside the region are advised to stay away from this confrontation to avoid ‘accidental injury’,” a hostile state-controlled media editorial warns.

Is Beijing worried?

Until now, the only nation to directly challenge Beijing’s rejected 12 nautical mile (22km) sovereignty claims has been the United States. It did so again Thursday, with the destroyer USS Benfold passing through the troubled Taiwan Strait.

But the world is watching to see if London will join the US in crossing such “red lines”.\

“Sending a warship within 12 miles of Chinese territory is a direct challenge to China’s core interests, which might result in misjudgment,” the Chinese Communist Party-controlled Global Times warns.

Other nations, including Australia, have limited themselves to operating warships in nearby international waters and shipping lanes.

Beijing’s uptight enough over the idea to talk even tougher than usual.

“An old saying in China goes that if you want to punish someone, you need to consider saving face for his big brother,” Chinese military analyst Song Zhongping is quoted as saying. “However, what China will do is just the opposite: China will make it clear to the US that London will be punished by acting like Washington’s running dog in provoking Beijing.”

Innocent Passage?

Beijing warns: “We advise US allies to be particularly cautious, keep a significant distance from China’s red lines and refrain from pushing ahead. If their warships rampantly behave as the US military does in the South China Sea, they will more likely become an example of China defending its sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

Beijing-based university think-tank South China Sea Probing Initiative located HMS Queen Elizabeth and consorts crossing China’s arbitrary “nine-dash line” on Wednesday.

“China is holding multiple military exercises in sea areas including the Bohai Strait, the Yellow Sea and the South China Sea,” Beijing stated in response to the news.

Open-source intelligence enthusiasts soon also spotted the Chinese aircraft carrier PLAN Shandong operating in the Northern South China Sea.