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German engagement in the Indo-Pacific: Frigate “Bayern” crosses the South China Sea

frigate in the sea

Frigate Bayern , © Andrew Langholf/U.S. Navy/Planet Pix via ZUMA Press Wire

16.12.2021 - Article

Germany is bolstering international law with this crossing of the South China Sea. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) guarantees freedom of navigation in international waters and is the comprehensive and globally applicable legal framework for all maritime claims.

Setting out from the Korean peninsula, the frigate Bayern will cross the South China Sea towards Singapore in the second half of December as part of its deployment in the Indo-Pacific. Germany’s presence in the South China Sea underscores its continued commitment to freedom of navigation and the preservation of the rules-based international order in the Indo-Pacific, which is coming under pressure in the South China Sea. The People’s Republic of China, for example, is making far-reaching maritime claims and does not recognise the 2016 UNCLOS arbitration ruling on the Spratly Islands. There have been repeated incidents with the other states bordering the islands.

Clear legal position

Germany regularly underlines the significance of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as a comprehensive, universally applicable legal framework for all activities in the world’s oceans and seas. This applies in particular to the freedom of navigation and overflight in international waters enshrined in the Convention, as well as to the right of innocent passage through coastal waters. UNCLOS also governs the procedure to be followed in the event of a dispute via mandatory dispute settlement mechanisms. Together with France and the UK, Germany presented its legal position to the United Nations with respect to international law on maritime claims in the South China Sea in a joint Note Verbale in September 2020.

Implementing the policy guidelines for the Indo-Pacific

Open shipping routes are immensely important to the economies of Germany and Europe. A disruption to maritime trade routes in the Indo-Pacific and thus to the supply chains to and from Europe would have serious repercussions for the prosperity of and supplies to Germany and Europe. The seven-month patrol and training mission of the frigate Bayern from August 2021 to February 2022 is a tangible contribution to protecting and safeguarding the rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific. Part of the vessel’s mandate is therefore to provide support to international missions such as Atalanta and Sea Guardian. Immediately prior to crossing the South China Sea, the frigate Bayern was involved in monitoring the UN Security Council’s sanctions against North Korea for about a month. Port visits are also scheduled in Singapore, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and India.

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