A German frigate will leave for Asia in August and, on its return trip, will become the first German warship to cross the South China Sea since 2002, senior government officials said on Wednesday.
The ship will not pass in what officials have called the “12 nautical miles,” foreign and defense ministry officials added, in a reference to the disputed areas of the sea, which China almost claims in its own right. entirety.
The UK is also sending its navy to the region, announcing on Saturday that HMS Queen Elizabeth will embark on her maiden voyage in May this year and is expected to reach East Asia by the end of summer in the northern hemisphere. .
China has established military outposts on man-made islands across the South China Sea, which is also claimed by Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan and the Philippines, which have translated China before an international tribunal for its claims.
In 2016, The Hague Arbitration Court ruled that there was no legal basis for China’s claim. China refused to participate in the case and subsequently dismissed the decision as “null and void.”
The United States regularly conducts “freedom of navigation” operations in which its ships pass close to certain islands, asserting freedom of access to international waterways.
Washington accuses Beijing of militarizing the South China Sea and trying to intimidate its Asian neighbors.
“ Rules-based international order ”
The United States hailed Germany’s decision to deploy its ship to the region.
“The United States has a national interest in the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law, lawful and unimpeded trade, and the freedom of navigation and other lawful uses of the sea,” said said a spokeswoman for the US State Department.
“We welcome Germany’s support for a rules-based international order in the Indo-Pacific. The international community has a vital interest in the preservation of an open maritime order. “
A spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said the countries enjoy the freedom of navigation and overflight in the waterway under international law, but added, “They cannot take this as an excuse to undermine the waterway. sovereignty and security of riparian countries. “
China itself has also stepped up its activities in the region.
On Wednesday, the state newspaper Global Times reported that the Chinese navy had conducted a series of “combat scenario” exercises, including an amphibious landing in undisclosed waters “far from the mainland.”
In January, Beijing passed a law that, for the first time, explicitly allowed its coastguards to shoot at foreign ships.
The Coast Guard Act authorizes it to “take all necessary measures, including the use of weapons when national sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction are unlawfully infringed by foreign organizations or individuals at sea.”
Amid alarm among countries surrounding the sea, China said the law was a “normal national” measure that did not target any particular country.
The wording of the law, Beijing said, “does not indicate any change in China’s maritime policy.”
The Chinese Coast Guard is the most powerful force of its kind in the region and is already active near uninhabited East China Sea islands controlled by Japan but claimed by Beijing, as well as in the South China Sea.
In response, France announced in February that a nuclear-powered submarine and warship were patrolling the South China Sea to highlight freedom of navigation.
Last January, a Canadian warship also sailed near the South China Sea, crossing the Taiwan Strait en route to join nearby exercises with the Australian, Japanese and United States navies.