France to challenge Chinese military presence in South China Sea

France to challenge Chinese military presence in South China Sea

French Rubis-class nuclear attack submarine Émeraude with support ships has successfully concluded a passage of the South China Sea in a recent show of force by the French navy against Chinese military presence. File photo shows French sailors aboard the Floreal-class frigate Venemiaire.

Sourced from the web by Tracy Cabrera

TOULON, FRANCE — Following a show of force by American naval forces in the South China Sea, France plans to step up its military presence in the area by planning two voyages by its naval warships through disputed waters in what could be construed as the European country’s response to a recent call by United States president Joseph Biden to the G7 and European Union (EU) to “work together” in challenging China’s alleged ‘expansionist’ foreign policies in Asia.

In an official statement, the French navy announced that its amphibious assault ship Tonnerre and the frigate Surcouf had left their home port Toulon on Thursday, February 18, to travel to the Pacific on a three-month mission that could be considered a reiteration of the ‘freedom of navigation’ policy being implemented in the world’s biggest ocean.

The website Naval News reported that the ships would cross the South China Sea twice and take part in a combined exercise with Japanese and US naval forces this coming May the current year.

Capt Arnaud Tranchant, commanding officer of the Tonnerre told Naval News that the French navy would “work to strengthen” France’s partnership with the US, Japan, India, and Australia—the so-called Quad.

When asked whether he was planning to transit Taiwan Strait, Tranchant said he has “not yet traced our roads in this area”.

Similar missions in 2015 and 2017 also saw French navy vessels sailing through the South China Sea, but analysts said the latest exercise is a sign of France stepping up engagement in the Indo-Pacific region.

The French nuclear attack submarine Émeraude and naval support ship the Seine, had recently sailed through the South China Sea, triggering intense criticism from Beijing.

But geopolitical experts said France will further reinforce its opposition to China’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea by increasing the frequency of its operations in the region, aiming to maintain a ‘normal presence’ to protect French interests there.
France established its Indo-Pacific strategy in 2018, the first major European country to do so. Fu Kuncheng, dean of South China Sea Institute at Xiamen University, said the patrols and exercise in the disputed waters were “alarming” and China should reflect on how to deal with the pressure.

In recent times, Japan-US have held joint military drills, including cyber warfare training as concerns about China grow.

“It’s clear that the US hopes to combine with its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies to show off their muscles in the South China Sea with exercises and so-called freedom of navigation (operations),” Fu pointed out.

“When these countries advocate freedom of navigation, China should send warships to accompany them. But if they enter the territorial waters claimed by China, we must protest in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,” he said.

In agreement, Hu Bo, director of Beijing-based think tank the South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative noted that “the Indo-Pacific has become more and more important (and at present) France is trying to strengthen its military presence in the South China Sea.

Hu, however, said that the move could be difficult for France as its military power has been shrinking in recent years.”

Last week, the US Navy sent its aircraft carriers, the USS Theodore Roosevelt and USS Nimitz, into the contested waters, accompanied by other warships.

“It’s obvious that France aims to demonstrate its military presence in the Indo-Pacific region, especially under pressure from the United States, to cooperate with the military deployment and activities of the US,” former People’s Liberation Army instructor and now military commentator Song Zhongping said. (AI/MTVN)

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