The United States has welcomed a plan by NATO ally Germany to sail a warship across the disputed South China Sea for the first time after almost two decades, amid tensions with China in the resource-rich waters.
Officials in the Foreign and Defense Ministries of the German government said on Tuesday that a German frigate would set sail for Asia in August and that it would sail across the South China Sea on its return journey, becoming the first German warship to cross the disputed waters since 2002.
China claims sovereignty over nearly the entire South China Sea. The strategic body of water serves as a gateway to global sea routes, through which about 3.4 trillion dollars of trade passes each year. Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei have overlapping claims with China to parts of the sea.
On Wednesday, Washington hailed the plan by the German government, knowing that it would almost certainly unnerve China.
“We welcome Germany’s support for a rules-based international order in the Indo-Pacific. The international community has a vital stake in the preservation of an open maritime order,” a spokeswoman for the US State Department said.
In reaction to the German plan, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said countries enjoyed the freedom of navigation and overflight in the waterway under international law.
However, he stressed, “they cannot take it as an excuse to undermine the sovereignty and security of littoral countries.”
Back in January, Beijing passed a law that allowed its coast guard for the first time to open fire on foreign vessels that pose threats.
The resource-rich South China Sea has been a source of tension between Beijing and Washington, which not only sides with Beijing’s rivals in the maritime dispute but also regularly dispatches its warships and warplanes to the waters as part of what it describes as “freedom of navigation” patrols.