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German Warship Passes through South China Sea for First Time in 20 years; Navy Chief Promises Future Deployments

Following its dispatch of a warship to the contested South China Sea for the first time in two decades, Germany plans to increase its activities in the region. 

Vice Admiral Kay-Achim Schonbach explained his country’s presence as a way “to support” and “to give a new perspective” to Germany’s “friends and partners.” 

Schonbach made his comments during a “Squawk Box Asia” broadcast on Wednesday at the headquarters of CNBC Asia in Singapore, while his warship, the frigate Bayern, was docked there. The Bayern sailed in August from Wilhelmshaven harbor with more than 200 soldiers on board for a six-month mission to strengthen Germany’s presence in the region that would take it to Singapore, South Korea, and Australia. 

Having described China’s growing naval power as “explosive” due to the country’s navy having grown by the equivalent of the entire French navy every four years being, Schonberg showed concern, but also acknowledged China’s claimed desire for a “blue-water navy.” The Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA) defines a “blue-water navy” as “a maritime force capable of sustained operation across the deep waters of open oceans. A blue-water navy allows a country to project power far from the home country and usually includes one or more aircraft carriers.”

Schonberg nonetheless questioned how—or indeed, whether—they would “fit into the international rules-based order.” China’s investments in expanding its naval might, while it already possesses the largest maritime force, has put the United States and its European and Asian allies increasingly on alert. 

Schonbach said the deployment is “like a teaser;” a signal of German commitment to increased engagement in Asia. “We’re here for the first time after 19 years to check the battlefield,” he said. “The next step, probably, I hope that we can come on a regular basis—two or three years.”

Germany’s interest in the region is primarily economic, since European and Indo-Pacific economies are closely connected through global supply chains, as policy guidelines on the Indo-Pacific region last year stated. “Major trading routes pass through the Indian Ocean, the South China Sea and the Pacific. If conflicts in the region adversely affect security and stability there, this has repercussions for Germany, too,” the document read.

Tristan Vanheuckelom writes on film, literature, and comics for various Dutch publications. He is an avid student of history, political theory, and religion, and is a News Writer at The European Conservative.

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