Germany may send its own warship to the Indo-Pacific region

The article was published in Defence24. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.

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BERLIN, (BM) – Another European country may send its ship to the Indo-Pacific this year. Germany’s decision may constitute a fundamental challenge to the current line of Chinese policy, which was based on the effective behind-the-scenes discouragement of European countries’ authorities from showing political and military activity, for example, in the context of disputes in the South China Sea.

Earlier this month, German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer was to reiterate that Berlin saw the Indo-Pacific region’s strategic role. Therefore, most likely, from August this year until February 2022, the German frigate is to appear in the area (more precisely, the Bayern frigate, which is to depart from the port of Wilhelmshaven). Naturally, Beijing is not entirely satisfied with the current increase in the activity of European naval forces.

The announcement that Germany would send its ship, naturally, was very positively received by Washington, which has long been looking for support for its policy of containing China’s growing aspirations—based precisely on the principle of freedom of navigation. He argues that Beijing intends to reduce it by significantly, for example, the militarization of some islands, such as the South China Sea, and by unilateral attempts to control shipping routes based on the dynamically growing Chinese fleet.

What are the rumors?

It is unofficially rumored that the German ship will cross the South China Sea on its way back, becoming the first German vessel to do so since 2002. However, the German boat is to operate within 12 nautical miles away from any land. At the same time, Germany is cautious and avoids subscribing to the American concept of guaranteeing navigation freedom in disputed waters with its patrols.

However, for Washington and outside observers, a German ship’s presence is also read in terms of this kind, relating to the freedom of shipping lanes. We should add that the local countries positively note German activities in the area. For example, at the end of last year, Japanese minister Kishi Nobuo invited the Germans to visit Japan and jointly exercise the fleets of both countries.

What is the mood among politicians?

However, it should be noted that not everyone in Germany is delighted with this kind of announcement that it will engage in one of the most strategic and potentially conflicting regions in the world. For some German politicians, this kind of activity should not be formatted by decisions of the German authorities themselves, but rather be a derivative of the European Union’s actions that have been worked out earlier.

The German Greens are to be particularly active in criticizing the decision to send a warship. Interestingly, in the context of the discussion about the frigate’s mission in the Indo-Pacific region, the defense expert of the FDP parliamentary group, Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, was to emphasize that Europe should wake up to Chinese actions.

As she noted, the Chinese are developing military cooperation with the Russian Navy in areas that are key to the security of Europe. Also, they take capital control of key European ports. All this shows the growing strategic awareness of the Indo-Pacific as a region whose security directly translates into the situation in Europe. Thus, requiring political and military activity also on the part of Berlin.

The region becomes key

Indeed, the German authorities already see the requirement to engage in the Indo-Pacific region. This has found a particular translation in the new strategic policy guidelines, which partially call on the German side to “possibly extend its commitment to security” of the area.

Berlin does not hide that Asia’s development in the 21st century shifts the burden of many activities from the political, military, and, above all, economic domains to this area. German rulers are not afraid to say that, in their opinion, “the region becomes the key to shaping the international order in the 21st century”. If the German frigate does begin operating in the South China Sea, it will not be the only positive signal for the Americans.

France has deployed the Émeraude submarine, and it also has two warships en route to the region (including FS Tonnere). Also, the United Kingdom expects to ship its aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth later this year. Not to mention that a Canadian unit was also present in the South China Sea recently. Besides, the Winnipeg frigate was intended to cross the Taiwan Strait, which is even more of a problem for China’s worldwide narrative regarding Taiwan’s status.

Beijing’s reaction

Beijing is not satisfied with this attitude of an increasing number of countries, even suggesting that in the case of, for example, France, it is even playing with fire. There are suggestions that even symbolic cruises of warships from European countries may meet with a disproportionate reaction from the Chinese side, based on diplomatic and military arguments, but above all on economic and technological ones.

The case of the voyage of the French frigate Vendemiaire in 2019 through the Taiwan Strait is cited. In response to this fact, China was to ask the French to leave the maritime parade in honor of the 70th anniversary of establishing the Chinese Navy. But there are also voices from Chinese analysts trying to weaken the tone of US-European actions in the region.

It is emphasized that the presence of, for example, a German unit would not be a desire to pursue American interests, but quite the opposite. This is a kind of manifestation of Berlin’s striving for strategic independence in such an essential region globally and in the space of projection of military power.

Berlin is not currently concerned with the rhetoric of the Chinese side

At the same time, but on such occasions, a lot of attention – by the way – is devoted to considering the scope of economic cooperation between Beijing and Berlin. Moreover, Wang Wenbin of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs was to point out that although all states may enjoy the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, this should not be an excuse for threatening the countries’ sovereignty and security in the region.

It cannot be ignored, however, that for Chinese decision-makers, the broadest possible internationalization of the Indo-Pacific security issue can be a significant blow to their visions of pushing the United States out of this region and then gaining an advantage over local, individual states with weaker military and economic potentials.

However, Berlin is not currently concerned with the Chinese side’s rhetoric, adopting a very pragmatic stance. The speech is that, where possible, the German side intends to cooperate with the Chinese, but if there is a space where it will be necessary to oppose the Chinese’s claims and actions (negatively assessed), it will be fought. In 2020, Germany – like France and the Netherlands, published its strategic documents for the Indo-Pacific region.

Naturally, for diplomatic reasons, they are not characterized by the rhetoric known from similar American documents. But behind the statements that Germany’s interests include ensuring peace and security, deepening regional relations, the openness of shipping lanes, promoting free trade, or protecting the climate, there are much more important interests, not explicitly stated. Because in many places, it is practically about a space that is perceived diametrically differently by Beijing.

The most dangerous effect

This may be the most dangerous effect of European countries’ current maritime patrols, especially when added to the European experience resulting from relations with the Chinese side around the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus pandemic or attitudes towards Taiwan. The peculiar Chinese bogeyman in economic and economic issues is not as effective as it was in the past. We cannot ignore that with the emergence of European countries. Also, countries in the region see the possibility of cooperation with entities other than China and the United States. This, in turn, will have the most significant impact on the effectiveness of Chinese rather than American policy.

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