On Wednesday, a German warship entered the South China Sea for the first time in almost 20 years in yet another example of the Western push to stoke tensions with China in the region.
Germany’s Defense Ministry said the frigate Bayern began a transit through the disputed waters on the way to Singapore, a trip that should take a few days. The last time a German warship sailed through the South China Sea was in 2002.
Germany is the latest Western ally of the US to send a warship into sensitive waters near China in a move that is seen as a challenge to Beijing’s maritime claims. This year, both France and the UK have deployed their navies to the South China Sea, and Canada joined the US in a Taiwan Strait transit back in October.
A major aspect of the Biden administration’s China strategy is to build alliances in Asia. The US has stepped up military cooperation with nations in the Asia Pacific and is working to strengthen the Quad, a group made up of the US, Japan, Australia, and India. Hawks in Washington view the Quad as a foundation for a potential NATO-style alliance in Asia.
Washington’s focus on China is demonstrated by the significant uptick in US military activity in the region. Last month, Chinese researchers said US reconnaissance flights in the South China Sea, the East China Sea, and the Yellow Sea had more than doubled compared with the previous year. At that point in 2021, the US had conducted over 2,000 sorties in the waters near China’s coast, compared with just under 1,000 in 2020.
The US activity shows no sign of slowing down. The Beijing-based South China Sea Probing Initiative tracked 94 US spy planes in the South China Sea in November, the highest number of sorties in one month since the think tank began tracking US flights in June 2019.