Germany sent a warship to the South China Sea for the first time in almost two decades on Monday, aligning itself with other Western nations by expanding its military presence in the region.
The "Bayern" (Bavaria) set sail for its six-month deployment from a naval base in Wilhelmshaven, northwestern Germany, with more than 200 soldiers on board.
As part of the tour, the vessel will dock in the ports of Germany's allied partners. But it is the decision to sail in the contested waters of the South China Sea that will test Berlin's delicate relationship with Beijing the most.
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the Indo-Pacific region was one part of the world where the international order of the future would be decided and as such, it was important that Germany have a presence in it.
"We aim to be involved and to take responsibility for maintaining the rule-based international order," Maas said.
Currently, Germany is part of the international effort to monitor UN sanctions on North Korea and is actively building partnerships in the region.
'Standing up for our values'
German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said: "The message is clear: we are standing up for our values and interests together with our partners and allies."
"For our partners in the Indo-Pacific, it is a reality that sea routes are no longer open and secure, and that claims to territory are being applied by the law of might is right," she added.
In the Indo-Pacific region, "important decisions on peace, security and prosperity will be made," Kramp-Karrenbauer said.
Japan sought German cooperation
The Bayern's voyage comes as Beijing continues to make territorial claims in the South China Sea. Washington and its allies in the region, meanwhile, have sought to push back on such claims.
It also comes months after the Japanese government had called on Germany to send a warship to East Asia, as Tokyo looked to bolster international support for its vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region.
Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi held online talks in January with Kramp-Karrenbauer and expressed interest in having a German vessel take part in joint exercises with units of Japan's Self-Defense Forces.
On its way back to Germany, the ship will participate in the NATO mission "Sea Guardian" in the Mediterranean, the EU's "Atalanta" off the Horn of Africa, and the UN maritime surveillance mission off North Korea.
The Bayern is due back in Wilhelmshaven in February 2022.
jcg/jsi (AFP, dpa)