South China Sea: Chinese, German defence ministers discuss Beijing’s claims over waterway

·3-min read

Chinese and German defence ministers have exchanged views ahead of the expected sailing of a German frigate through the disputed South China Sea next month.

The German defence ministry said that during Tuesday’s video call, minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer asked her Chinese counterpart General Wei Fenghe to uphold a 2016 international arbitration decision that limited China’s claims to some sea areas in the South China Sea. According to Reuters, she also raised human rights concerns about the Uygur population in China’s Xinjiang region, an issue increasingly raised with Beijing by Western democracies.

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General Wei focused on recent celebrations marking the Communist Party centenary and urged Berlin to “properly manage disagreements” through dialogue, according to the Chinese defence ministry statement.

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General Wei Fenghe and Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer meet by video link on Tuesday. Photo: Twitter
General Wei Fenghe and Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer meet by video link on Tuesday. Photo: Twitter

“[We] hope Germany will join China in upholding multilateralism, resist politicising the coronavirus pandemic, rejecting a zero-sum game [in geopolitics] and defending global justice,” Wei was quoted as saying.

“Both sides should strengthen strategic communication, continue with exchanges in existing mechanisms and properly manage disagreements, to push for the stable development of the two armies,” he added, according to the statement.

The talks come as a German frigate is expected to cross the South China Sea next month – it will be the country’s first warship to make the crossing since 2002.

The defence ministers’ meeting also follows Monday’s video call between Chinese President Xi Jinping, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron in which Xi relayed hopes of better cooperation with the two major European Union powers.

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Germany and European allies such as Britain and France have vowed to boost their military presence in the region under their respective Indo-Pacific guidelines. The United States, which regularly conducts “freedom of navigation” operations in the South China Sea, has applauded engagement by its Nato allies as it views such patrols as asserting freedom of access to international waterways.

After Berlin announced in March it would send a naval frigate through the South China Sea, Beijing said any country could sail in international waterways but warned that this was not “an excuse to undermine the sovereignty and security of littoral countries”.

China claims almost all of the South China Sea and has established military outposts on some artificial islands. Parts of the waters are also claimed by Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan and the Philippines, which took China to the international court over its claims. A tribunal in The Hague overwhelmingly backed the Philippines in the 2016 case – a ruling that was rejected by China.

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