Berlin will expand its military presence in the South China Sea, a key defense official has said
Germany will deploy two warships to the Indo-Pacific next year, Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said at an international summit on Sunday, amid ongoing regional tensions involving China and Taiwan, as well as the disputed South China Sea.
In an address at the Shangri-La Dialogue security conference in Singapore on Sunday, Pistorius declared that the maritime passage, through which around 40% of Europe's foreign trade travels, must be respected.
"To this end, the German federal government sent a frigate to the Indo-Pacific in 2021, and will again, in 2024, deploy maritime assets," Pistorius said at the conference, which was attended by many of the world's most influential defense officials.
These assets, Pistorius said, would comprise a frigate and a supply ship - but he stressed that the maritime deployment is not being undertaken to counter actions of any specific actor in the region. "To the contrary," he continued, "they are dedicated to the protection of the rules-based international order that we all signed up to and which we all should benefit from."
Berlin and Beijing maintain key trade links, but the deployment of the warships to the South China Sea in 2024 could potentially lead to headaches as Germany seeks to juggle its security and economic interests.
In 2021, a German warship was deployed to the region for the first time in almost two decades. Other Western countries have also increased their military presence in the area amid concerns about Beijing's territorial objectives, particularly in relation to Taiwan.
Beijing has asserted that the South China Sea is its exclusive maritime zone. However, about seven years ago, a tribunal under the terms of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea firmly rejected Beijing's territorial claim to the waters. Despite this, China has installed military outposts on at least three islands in the sea.
Last month, Beijing expressed its "significant displeasure" at a visit by German government minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger to Taiwan - which Beijing views as a breakaway province. China has frequently rebuked Western nations for engaging in diplomacy with leaders in Taipei, which it views as a part of its sovereign territory under the 'One-China' principle.
On Saturday at the same conference in Singapore, Pistorius said he had "made it clear" to Beijing that he expected China to end its practice of enlisting former German military pilots to help train its own forces. This followed a report by German news magazine Spiegel on Friday, which said China had been receiving such training for years, and that security officials in Berlin were concerned that the military knowledge of German and NATO forces were being discussed.