A commentary published by The Diplomat on Friday last week questioned whether a German naval vessel en route to the Asia-Pacific region is signaling a change in Berlin’s stance toward China.
While relations between China and European nations have soured recently — two notable examples being Lithuania and Sweden — the article discusses how Germany must be delicate in its approach to countering Chinese power, as it must also maintain a stable trade relationship with Beijing.
However, many in Germany have called on the administration of German Chancellor Angela Merkel to respond to “China’s wrongdoings — from human rights abuses to Beijing’s ever expanding claims in the South China Sea,” the authors wrote.
The voyage of the German frigate Bayern to the contested South China Sea might signal that a change in stance is on the horizon — particularly as Merkel is to step down next month and China is likely to remain a major issue in the election campaign, the authors wrote.
Germany’s new administration after the Sept. 26 election would likely be more vocal on issues related to China, as voices of opposition to Chinese aggression toward EU member states are growing.
EU spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Nabila Massrali told the Central News Agency on Wednesday that while the EU follows a “one China” policy, it also has an interest in developing closer relations with Taiwan.
“We regret the Chinese action and are following developments closely,” she said in response to China withdrawing its ambassador from Lithuania and expelling the Lithuanian ambassador from Beijing.
Germany’s intentions in sending the Bayern were made known when German Minister of Defense Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer wrote on Twitter: “The message is clear: we are standing up for our values and interests together with our partners and allies.”
Germany is not the only European nation to have sent naval vessels to the Asia-Pacific region. France sent its nuclear attack submarine Emeraude and naval support ship Seine through the South China Sea in early February, followed by an amphibious assault ship, the Tonnerre, and the frigate Surcouf as part of its annual Jeanne d’Arc mission, the South China Morning Post said on Feb. 27.
France also joined US, Australian and Japanese forces for part of the Jeanne d’Arc training exercises in May, while India has said that it would send four naval vessels to the South China Sea over a two-month period.
Despite an increase in foreign vessels operating in the area, China has not toned down its rhetoric.
After the UK conducted freedom of navigation exercises through the South China Sea last month, China’s Global Times reported that a spokesperson at the Chinese embassy in London called the exercises provocative.
The question is whether China would escalate matters beyond statements of protest and shadowing vessels as they pass through the South China Sea. It has been the belief of many analysts that the Chinese Communist Party is now so deeply entrenched with its claims on Taiwan and the South China Sea that it would be compelled to respond to anyone challenging those claims, lest it risk losing legitimacy as China’s ruling party.
Tamkang University strategic studies professor Alexander Huang (黃介正) told Voice of America that China could fire live missiles near foreign ships as they pass through the South China Sea.
Whatever moves China — or the democracies increasingly challenging it — make, Taiwan must clearly make known that it is willing to cooperate with friendly nations in any way possible — including participating in drills and allowing foreign ships to dock in Taiwan.
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