France challenges China's dominance in South China Sea

Patricia Lourdes Viray - Philstar.com
France challenges China's dominance in South China Sea
In March, the French Navy announced that Floréal-class surveillance frigate Vendémiaire conducted a patrol in the South China Sea to assert French presence in the region.
Frency Navy

MANILA, Philippines — Staying true to its commitment to uphold freedom of navigation in the disputed South China Sea, France might be leading other European nations to stand up against China's aggression in the region.

China, however, continues to guard international ships passing through the South China Sea, which they claim as their own.

A Chinese warship recently challenged a French military vessel conducting an operation near Beijing's outposts in the contested waterway, according to Hudson Institute senior fellow Jonas Parello-Plesner.

In an article published in The Wall Street Journal, Plesner narrated how the Chinese frigates and corvettes followed the French ship passing through the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

"'This is China warship calling,' a voice bellowed out over the radio. "'The Nansha islands are under Chinese sovereignty. What are your intentions?'" Plesner wrote in his article.

"The reply from the French military vessel, where I was on the command bridge as an observer last week, was polite but curt. The French said their ships were operating in international waters," he added.

Plesner added that the Chinese ships "closely tailed" the French ship while they passed around Fiery Cross, Mischief and Rubi Reefs.

A helicopter detachment from the United Kingdom and European observers, including Germany, were also with the French warship when this incident happened last week.

In the article, Plesner noted that France has been conducting freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea since 2014.

"President Emmanuel Macron is building stronger defense relationships with India and Australia, and he seems to be realistically assessing the growing Chinese challenge. This is a welcome change from his predecessors, who were enthralled by the business and investment opportunities in China," Plesner said.

"France is rallying other Europeans to put action behind the declarations of free navigation," he added.

During the recently concluded Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly stressed that France would continue to conduct missions in the disputed waters, along with the United Kingdom and Germany.

At least five French ships sailed through the South China Sea last year, according to the French defense minister.

"Meanwhile, we should be very clear that the fait accompli is not a fait accepted," Parly said in the security and defense summit.

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