Published: 03 March 2021 Updated: 05 March 2021 Author: Stefan Talmon
It was revealed on 2 March 2021 that following up on its “Policy guidelines for the Indo-Pacific region” adopted in September 2020, Germany will send the frigate “Bayern” to the Indo-Pacific. The warship will leave its home port of Wilhelmshaven at the beginning of August for a six-month journey. On its return journey, the frigate will sail through the South China Sea.
It is not planned that the frigate will sail within 12 nautical miles of any island or feature claimed by China in the area. However, it was said that the Federal Government understood the dispatch of the frigate as a sign to counter Chinese sovereignty claims in the South China Sea. It was also said that Germany thereby reaffirmed the July 2016 ruling of the arbitral tribunal established under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Ministerial sources said that the operation would protect “our multilateral, rule-based principles and values, such as our commitment to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea”. It will be the first time since 2002 that a German warship crosses the South China Sea.
The United States welcomed the plan to sail a warship across the South China Sea. On 3 March 2021, a U.S. State Department spokesperson said:
“The United States has a national interest in the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law, lawful unimpeded commerce, and freedom of navigation and other lawful uses of the sea. We welcome Germany’s support for a rules-based international order in the Indo-Pacific. The international community has a vital stake in the preservation of an open maritime order.”
Asked about the German plans, the spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated tersely:
“Countries enjoy the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea as stipulated in international law, but they cannot take it as an excuse to undermine the sovereignty and security of littoral countries.”
The planned journey is more a symbolic move and not to be compared with the more confrontational so-called “freedom of navigation exercises” of the U.S. navy in the South China Sea.