German warship in S.China Sea more 'symbolic' than 'threat'
Published: Dec 22, 2021 08:34 PM
German Navy frigate Bayern File Photo:

German Navy frigate Bayern File Photo:

For the first time in two decades, Germany dispatched a warship to the South China Sea in an attempt to expand further military deployments in Asia. 

Experts shrugged off the "threat" as a symbolic gesture to cater to the US, which reflected Germany's dilemma in balancing ties with the two major world powers. Despite pressure from Washington, observers said Germany would give priority to ensure its own interests and avoid provoking its top trading partner.

German navy chief Vice Admiral Kay-Achim Schonbach suggested the vessel's foray was "only a teaser," and that Germany hopes to dispatch ships and possible aircraft to the region starting 2023. He said while on board the frigate Bayern in Singapore, the South China Morning Post reported. 

With its heightened presence in the region, he said Germany sought to offer a "new perspective" to regional players on top of those offered by major powers such as China and the US, according to the report. But it will be carried out in incremental steps, Schonbach added.

Cui Hongjian, director of the Department of European Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, said that Berlin's military presence in the Indo-Pacific is more from an EU stance rather than from the country's. "The Scholz government gives more emphasis to the concept of EU as a whole, so that Germany can ease some pressure from inside and outside its borders," he told the Global Times on Wednesday.

It is another veiled attempt, following the UK and France, backed by the US to steer the wind, observers noted, as the US is roping in allies. 

When asked why the Bayern did not sail through the Taiwan Straits, Schonbach said Germany's first naval deployment to the region in 19 years should not start "with a hammer," Straits Times reported.

"Germany is avoiding crossing China's red lines and provoking its top trading partner in terms of the Taiwan question. It also did not sail within Chinese territorial waters, indicating that the move is only a symbolic gesture to cater to the US that will pose no impact on the regional geopolitical landscape," Chen Xiangmiao, an assistant research fellow at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

It reflects the dilemma that Germany has been put into in balancing ties with China and the US. But despite pressure from the US, Germany would retain its independence in diplomacy and give priority to its own interests in maintaining good relations with China, as the losses outweigh the gains if Germany's dispatch damages bilateral ties, Chen noted.

Schonbach's remarks on the South China Sea, which are being pursued by a group of pro-US politicians, however, has not been the mainstream opinion of German society, Cui told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke on the phone with Germany's new Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Tuesday, in which the two leaders pledged to inherit and advance China-Germany friendship and cooperation, maintain close communication on hotspot issues and jointly defend multilateralism in international affairs.

The first conversation between the two leaders after Scholz took office was regarded by experts as a solid start for bilateral interaction.