France calls for EU patrols in Spratlys

Edu Punay - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – France has called for more European naval patrols in the South China Sea to defuse the growing conflict between China and the United States and its allies in Asia, according to a report by foreignpolicy.com.

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, speaking at a three-day security conference in Singapore on Sunday, said European navies must have a “regular and visible” presence in the disputed area to uphold the law of the sea and freedom of navigation.

“If we want to contain the risk of conflict, we must defend this right and defend it ourselves,” he said.

While Le Drian did not mention China, his remarks were apparently aimed at Beijing, which has constructed military facilities on artificial islands.

 “If the law of the sea is not respected today in the China seas, it will be threatened tomorrow in the Arctic, in the Mediterranean, or elsewhere,” Le Drian said during the Shangri-La Dialogue, hosted by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

France’s stance marked the latest international pushback against China’s tough tactics in the strategic waterway, where more than $5 trillion worth of goods pass through annually, foreignpolicy.com reported.

Le Drian said he would provide more details on his proposal.

Last year, Japan said it would consider conducting naval patrols in the South China Sea even if it and China have their own dispute in the East China Sea.

This year, India has been airing its concern over China’s challenge to free navigation in the Western Pacific region, the website said.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague is set to rule this month on the sea row between China and the Philippines and Beijing said it will not recognize the tribunal’s authority.

The international court is expected to rule against China, the website said, and the US has called on the Chinese government to abide by the decision.

Mira Rapp-Hooper, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, says the timing of Le Drian’s remarks may mean that European Union governments may “come out in vocal support of the Hague decision in a few weeks,” foreignpolicy.com reported.

France has forged a $40-billion deal to sell submarines to Australia, citing fears over the region’s security, and called for greater French presence around its colonies in the Southern Pacific.



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