A German warship will patrol the Indian Ocean as part of the country’s plans to manage China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific region, German defence minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer has said.
She said the frigate is expected to be deployed next year and a German naval presence in the Indo-Pacific will help safeguard the rules-based world order. “We believe that Germany needs to mark its position in the region,” she said in an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald.
“We hope to be able to deploy next year,” she said. “We will be spending more on defence in 2021 than in 2020 despite the fact that [the Covid-19 pandemic] has hit our budgets. Now the key is to translate this into real muscle.”
Kramp-Karrenbauer didn’t specifically comment on whether the frigate will conduct freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea, where China has made controversial territorial claims.
“Given the rising security challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, it is my goal to intensify our bilateral and multilateral collaboration. That could include, for example, the embarkation of German warship officers on Australian Navy units – a project that is being negotiated as we speak,” she said.
The move comes close on the heels of Germany unveiling its Indo-Pacific policy in September, when with foreign minister Heiko Maas said latent conflicts in the region “would have global repercussions were they to erupt”.
Germany’s foreign ministry said at the time that the economies of Europe and the Indo-Pacific are closely connected through global supply chains, while major trading routes pass through the Indian Ocean, South China Sea and Pacific. “If conflicts in the region adversely affect security and stability there, this has repercussions for Germany, too,” the statement said.
Kramp-Karrenbauer noted the Indo-Pacific has become crucial to the world’s well-being and said Germany couldn’t afford to ignore some of China’s activities. “China is an important trading partner for Germany and we have strong economic ties which are in the interest of both sides,” she said. “At the same time, we do not turn a blind eye on unequal investment conditions, aggressive appropriation of intellectual property, state-subsidised distortion of competition or attempts to exert influence by means of loans and investments.”
Kramp-Karrenbauer was the first German minister to publicly confirm that restrictions on Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei will effectively exclude the company from Germany’s 5G network. “Germany is, in principle, open to investment from all sides. But if the technology offered to us is not beyond reproach, it cannot be used,” she said.
“The political ramifications would simply be too grave. China is a country that understands very well the political dimension of IT networks and data flows. I am sure our counterparts in Beijing understand that we Europeans can only operate technology we trust.”
Kramp-Karrenbauer said Germany is also working within NATO to expand relations with like-minded states such as Australia in the Indo-Pacific. “We share the same values, principles and interests. As a consequence, we stand united against those who challenge us,” she said.