By Wang Tianmi
A German frigate would set sail for the Indo-Pacific region early August this year and sail through the South China Sea on its way back about six months later, reported the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), a German newspaper, on March 2 citing several senior officials at the German foreign and defense ministries. Reuters said it that would be the first German warship crossing the South China Sea since 2002.
The German newspaper analyzed that the voyage was intended to enhance Germany’s regional influence in the Indo-Pacific, which falls in line with the goals that Berlin set in its Indo-Pacific policy guidelines last September. The newspaper added that the maritime operation clearly demonstrated Berlin’s opposition to China’s sovereign claims in disputed waters of the South China Sea.
European countries have been active recently to intensify their “presence” on the South China Sea issue. A French nuclear submarine crossed waters of the region in the company of a support ship in early February, followed by an amphibious assault ship and a frigate heading on February 18 for the Pacific Ocean for a three-month mission, French media reported. According to the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the two military ships will pass the South China Sea twice on the way and are set to carry out joint military exercises with their American and Japanese counterparts in May.
Britain’s The Times also reported lately that the Royal Navy’s HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier strike group is scheduled to set sail in May and arrive in East Asia at the end of this summer, where it will most likely carry out “freedom of navigation” operations in the South China Sea, as Britain’s Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nick Carter, hinted.
Cui Hongjian, director of the Department for European Studies of China Institute of International Studies, said in an interview on March 3 that European countries, such as the UK and France, assigned warships to the South China Sea a few years ago. Putting up the banner of “freedom of navigation” though, these countries still wanted to keep a distance from the US, which is shown in their choice of route, timing, and the official statements.
“The current situation is different from then,” said Cui, saying that European countries’ new movements are both cooperative and counterproductive for the US. By sending warships to the South China Sea, the UK, France, and Germany have posed themselves as the protectors of international rules on the one hand and demonstrated their intention to become participants of the major-country competition on the other. For the past two years, there have been ongoing discussions in Europe about whether the continent will become the battlefield of the major-country game or a force in it. Their operations in the South China Sea have just given an answer.
According to Cui, European countries are shifting towards more realistic international politics. They want to impose clout on China not only through economic and diplomatic means but also with something "visible", such as warships, to remind Beijing that "we are able to exert security influence around you".
Editor's note: This article is originally published on huanqiu.com, and is translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military Online. The information, ideas or opinions appearing in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of eng.chinamil.com.cn.