Saturday, February 13, 2021

France joins US to mount multilateral challenge on China in South China Sea


on Friday deployed a nuclear attack submarine in the South China Sea, in line with US President Joe Biden's call to mount a multilateral challenge to China, reported Asia Times.

In a tweet earlier this week, France's Defense Minister Florence Parly announced that the European power has deployed the nuclear attack submarine Emeraude along with naval support ship Seine to the maritime area to "affirm that law is the only rule that is valid, whatever the sea where we sail."

"This extraordinary patrol just completed its passage in the South China Sea," declared the French defense chief following its unprecedented military maneuvers in Asian waters this week.

"This is a striking proof of the capacity of our French Navy to deploy far away and for a long time, together with our Australian, American and Japanese strategic partners," she continued, emphasising that France's actions are part of a broader effort to uphold law in global sea lines of communications.

The move is the latest instance of French muscle-flexing in Asian waters, a move that is bound to spark China's ire. Back in 2019, the French frigate Vendemiaire conducted unprecedented freedom of navigation operations in the Taiwan Strait amid rising tensions between China and Taiwan.

The move to deploy nuclear submarine in the contested waters of the South China Sea comes in the backdrop of US President Joe Biden's warning of a new era of "extreme competition" with China a few weeks earlier.

Biden emphasised the necessity for a joint response along with like-minded allies in Europe and Asia.

Richard Javad Heydarian, in an article in Asia Times, wrote that the growing involvement of international powers from the Indo-Pacific and beyond also belies Beijing's persistent claim that maritime tensions in Asia are caused solely by US overreach.

has consistently maintained that it's a "resident power" in the Indo-Pacific, as it has territorial as well as strategic interests in the region and is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.

In its Indo-Pacific Strategy paper, titled "French Strategy in the Indo-Pacific for an inclusive Indo-Pacific", Paris calls for "a stable, multipolar order based on the rule of law and free movement, and fair and efficient multilateralism."

French President Emmanuel Macron has adopted proactive regional diplomacy by expanding defense and economic ties with like-minded powers such as Australia and India as part of a broader "Paris-Delhi-Canberra axis" vis-a-vis China.

The deployment of the French Navy coincides with the first dual-carrier freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) in the South China Sea by the new US administration, signaling less than a month in office growing international cooperation to rein in Chinese ambitions in adjacent waters, reported Asia Times.

Earlier, the US had deployed Nimitz Carrier Strike Group and Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group to the disputed waters - a first of its kind in almost six months, "to demonstrate the US Navy's ability to operate in challenging environments," according to a statement by the US Navy.

"Through operations like this, we ensure that we are tactically proficient to meet the challenge of maintaining peace and we are able to continue to show our partners and allies in the region that we are committed to promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific," said Rear Admiral Doug Verissimo, commander of the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group.

Other European powers such as the United Kingdom and Germany are also expected to deploy warships to the area in what increasingly looks like a concerted Western pushback against China's maritime ambitions, reported Asia Times.

European powers' growing involvement in regional geopolitics is consistent with the strategic priorities of the Biden administration, which has underscored its commitment to "working with our allies and partners" based "on the international rules of the road."

Moreover, according to the latest "The State of Southeast Asia" survey, annually conducted by the Singapore-based Institute for Southeast Asian Studies (ISEA), a think tank, European powers and Japan, "are the clear front-runners for ASEAN's most favored and trusted strategic partners in the hedging game against US-China rivalry."

What's increasingly clear is that Beijing is facing a concerted push back over its aggressive behaviour against smaller neighbours across international waters, opined Heydarian.



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