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German frigate dispatched to South China Sea in rare move

By Jun Nojima, Berlin


European Nations are increasingly wary of China’s military expansion. Germany is now preparing to send a frigate to sail in the South China Sea, where China continues to build military installations. The German ship will join nations monitoring North Korea’s activities that violate UN sanctions off the coast of the Korean Peninsula as part of efforts to keep China in check through stronger security coordination with countries in the region, including Japan. Since Germany has no overseas territories, its decision to send a ship to Asia is unusual.


According to senior officials at the German Defense Ministry and Foreign Ministry, the frigate will depart in early August and head for Australia via the Strait of Malacca. It will join patrol operations near the Korean Peninsula for several weeks toward the end of the year. Japan, the U.S., the UK, France, and Australia have been monitoring North Korea’s attempts to transfer cargo of sanctioned items from ship to ship in the area.


The frigate is scheduled to return to Germany by the end of February 2022 via the South China Sea, where China’s military installations are being built. As part of freedom of navigation operations, U.S. military vessels have traveled within about 12 nautical miles (approximately 22 km) of islands in the South China Sea several times. China is claiming territorial rights over this stretch of waters.


The senior officials of the two German ministries said the German ship will not go within 12 nautical miles of the islands. However, the officials said that their ministries affirm and support the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in July 2016 that China’s claim regarding the boundary in the South China Sea has no basis in international law.


The EU has been increasing its pressure on China through such moves as planning to dispatch a British aircraft carrier group to East Asia later this year. Meanwhile, some members of the German government are concerned that highlighting military matters will undermine Germany’s economic relations with China. By sending the frigate, Germany is showing its support for strong international opposition to China’s unilateral maritime expansion while not sailing in waters within 12 nautical miles of the islands to avoid unnecessarily irritating China.

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