The German navy’s frigate “Bayern” set sail on Monday for the Indo-Pacific region, fully loaded with Berlin’s aspirations to play a small role in the geopolitical standoff between China and the West. It would be the first time in almost two decades that a German combat vessel has set its course for the Indo-Pacific and that the German military will be deployed in the hotly contested South China Sea in a mighty show of military alliance with India, Japan, Australia, UK and the US against People’s Republic of China’s belligerence and expansionist maritime claims.
The first such deployment in almost 20 years is meant to uphold freedom of navigation in international waters, protect “open societies” and express support for regional partners sharing Germany’s values, Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said in a statement. The six-month mission follows the government’s overall strategy, published almost a year ago, for dealing with Indo-Pacific challenges. For Germany, that has entailed a delicate dance around the subject of China, which government leaders believe is a would-be adversary in the security arena and an ally in other domains, like fighting climate change. The Bayern’s departure from Wilhelmshaven comes after the coronavirus crisis last year ended planning for a more modern frigate to conduct the mission. The Bayern will help enforce the UN sanctions regime against North Korea and support the NATO and EU missions Operation Sea Guardian and Atalanta, respectively.