US, Britain, France, Germany, Holland, Canada, all are sending warships to the South China Sea in growing “pushback” against Beijing.
Britain’s defence ministry says a multinational task force centred on its new 65,000-ton aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth will arrive in South East Asia between April and June.
France sent one of its nuclear-powered attack submarines which passed through the South China Sea earlier this month. Now it’s sending the 21,000-ton amphibious assault ship FS Tonnere and a frigate through the disputed waters in coming weeks to underline freedom of navigation.
French armed forces Minister Florence Parly announced earlier this month that the submarine FS Emeraude voyaged through the South China Sea to “enrich our knowledge of this area and affirm that international law is the only rule that is valid, regardless of the sea where we sail.”
And last month, the Royal Canadian Navy frigate Winnipeg passed through the contested Taiwan Strait to emphasise a “free and open Indo-Pacific”
German government officials said on Tuesday a German frigate would set sail for Asia in August and, on its return journey, become the first German warship to cross the South China Sea since 2002.
The United States on Wednesday hailed plans by NATO ally Germany to sail a warship across the contested South China Sea, calling it welcome support for a “rules-based international order” in the region, something Washington says is threatened by China.
German warships are said to be on patrol with US warships in the South China Sea, in order to suppress China, which has many unilateral claims, while at the same time supporting a rules-based international order.
“The United States has a national interest in maintaining peace and stability, respect for international law, lawful trade without barriers, freedom of navigation and other lawful use of the sea,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price.
German officials say their warships will not pass within the 12 nautical mile limit that China and its rivals claim as territorial waters around contested areas on the international shipping route.
Beijing doesn’t want any of them in its backyard. “China does not wish for the presence of Western military power in the region,” Sun Keqin, research fellow at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations said. “But Germany wants to strengthen its presence in the Indo-Pacific region and enhance collaborations with Asean, Japan, South Korea and India. It also shows the United States hopes Germany will take more responsibility to pressure China.”
“By dispatching naval assets to the South China Sea, France and the UK are contributing to the US’ anti-China stratagems,” states the Beijing-controlled China Daily.
It accuses the West of a “crafty” and “neo-imperial” scheme to support Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia “which could in turn provoke regional crisis”.
China has constructed a network of artificial island fortresses to impose an arbitrary claim over the entire South and East China Seas. It has authorised its Coast Guard to “open fire” on intruding vessels and “unauthorised” structures.
“It is not China that is responsible for the regional instability, but the US and its Quad allies, along with wannabe members such as France. They should focus on improving economic ties through trade and investment, not provoking problems between regional states,” Chinese Communist Party media warns.
US Navy Exercises in South China Sea
The Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group from United States conducted dual carrier operations with the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group in the South China Sea Feb. 9, 2021.
The ships and aircraft of the two strike groups coordinated operations in a highly trafficked area to demonstrate the U.S. Navy’s ability to operate in challenging environments.
“Training with Carrier Strike Group Eleven in the South China Sea is a tremendously valuable opportunity,” said Rear Adm. Doug Verissimo, commander, Carrier Strike Group (CSG) Nine. “Through operations like this, we ensure that we are tactically proficient to meet the challenge of maintaining peace and we are able to continue to show our partners and allies in the region that we are committed to promoting a Free and Open Indo-Pacific.”
“Working cooperatively alongside Carrier Strike Group Nine improves our collective tactical skill while ensuring regional stability and security,” said Rear Adm. Jim Kirk, commander, Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 11. “We are committed to ensuring the lawful use of the sea that all nations enjoy under international law.”
CSG 9 consists of USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 11, the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill (CG 52), Destroyer Squadron 23, and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Russell (DDG 59) and USS John Finn (DDG 113).
CSG 11 consists of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68), Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 17, guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton (CG 59), the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, USS Sterett (DDG 104), and Destroyer Squadron 9 and CSG 11 staffs. 7th Fleet is the U.S. Navy’s largest forward-deployed fleet and employs 50 to 70 ships and submarines across the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans. 7th Fleet routinely operates and interacts with 35 maritime nations while conducting missions to preserve and protect a free and open Indo-Pacific region. USS Theodore Roosevelt departed San Diego for a scheduled deployment to the Indo-Pacific Dec. 23 while USS Nimitz departed Bremerton, Wash., April 27 for COMPTUEX and deployment following an onboard restriction of movement period that began April 1.
Japan Calls for Joint Drills
Japan in Decmeber 2020 had also invited Germany’s warship for a naval drill to counter China’s growing regional influence in the Indo-Pacific region.
In talks between Japanese Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi and his German counterpart, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Kishi hoped that a German warship would hold joint exercises with Japan`s Self-Defense Forces in 2021.
Kishi suggested that such an act would also ensure the right of passage through the South China Sea (SCS), most of which is now claimed by China. Over years, Japan has voiced for a free and open Indo-Pacific (FOIP), as a large volume of trade goes through the region, particularly energy supplies.
With an eye on China’s claims on the disputed islands in the South China Sea, several smaller nations like Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei, as well as Taiwan are joining hands with the United States to fend off a common enemy.
The communist giant has also taken over islands and reefs, often violating the exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) by sending fishing trawlers, research and exploration vessels and even Coast Guard ships.
Washington has rejected Beijing’s disputed claims to offshore resources in large parts of the South China Sea in violation of the law.
Owing to Chinese belligerence in the strategic region, a number of European nations have espoused interest in protecting the trade routes in the Indo-Pacific. Nations like France, the Netherlands and Germany have already revised their foreign policies towards China and the Indo-Pacific region, which means that the European Union (EU) too will follow suit in the near future.
Beijing is incensed with all the countries uniting.
“The French military has no place in the South China Sea,” state-controlled media declared, accusing Paris of a “destabilising” act. “It appears as though Paris is interested in expanding its destabilising neo-imperial influence into Southeast Asia too, which can only end in disaster just like it has in large swathes of Africa.”
Nevertheless, a French amphibious ship and frigate departed Toulon for South East Asia last week. The FS Tonnerre’s commanding officer told Naval News that he would “work to strengthen” France’s partnership with the US, Japan, India, and Australia.
Beijing has been increasing its military activities in the East and South China Seas in the past year. A near-constant chain of warship and aircraft manoeuvres and live-fire weapons tests have signalled its determination to enforce domination over the contested waterways.
Meanwhile, the Beijing-controlled South China Morning Post has again accused the US of “ratcheting up” tensions in the region after the destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur sailed by on Wednesday.
It quoted People’s Liberation Eastern Theatre Command staff as saying: “Theatre troops remain on high alert and are ready to counter all threats and provocations at any time.”
Communist China’s State Controlled Media Condemns All the Countries
Beijing’s state-controlled media has taken aim at Britain’s historic rivalry with France in a “wolf-warrior” diplomatic gibe.
“France is engaged in ‘friendly’ competition with the United Kingdom. Not wanting to feel ‘left out’, France might have mistakenly thought that it wise to join the growing militarisation of this body of water,” the China Daily asserts.
Despite the chaos and bitterness surrounding Britain’s “Brexit” separation from the European Union, the island nation has found a common cause with its cross-channel neighbours in the South China Sea.
Britain, France and Holland all have colonial ties to the region.
All maintain a degree of presence there.
Britain remains part of the 1971 Five Power Defence Arrangement designed to support its former colony, Malaysia. Signatories include Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.
Similarly, France maintains ties with its former colony Vietnam while managing its own Pacific territories such as Reunion Island.
And The Netherlands, which says it will send a warship to accompany HMS Queen Elizabeth, has emphasised that the United Nations Law of the Sea must form the basis of any dispute resolution.
Meanwhile, Germany is planning to send a frigate to Japan as a sign of solidarity over its East China Sea dispute with Beijing. It’s also expected to visit Australia and South Korea.
“We want to deepen our ties with our partners in the democratic camp,” Germany’s secretary for defence Thomas Silberhorn said.
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