Germany is deploying 13 military aircraft to joint drills in Australia, in one of the largest peacetime deployments of the German air force amid escalating Indo-Pacific tensions with China. Along with soldiers from Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea, the aircraft will take part in the “Pitch Black” training exercise.
Six Eurofighters from Bavaria took off towards Asia on Monday afternoon. The first goal is to transfer the fighter jets to Singapore within 24 hours.
The logistically complex project, “Rapid Pacific 2022”, in which around 250 soldiers are involved, is supported by four A400M transport aircraft and three A330 for refuelling the combat aircraft in the air.
Then it’s on to Australia, where crews will participate in two multinational Australian Armed Forces exercises this month and next. It is a good 16,000 kilometres for the soldiers to get to the scene.
Pilots will do around 200 mid-air refuelling missions during the three-day event, according to German air force head Ingo Gerhartz. Detours to Japan and South Korea are also included in the deployment.
Since at least 2018, Berlin has committed to playing a security role in the Indo-Pacific. It is partially due to the region’s expanding economic importance, but it is also a reflection of China’s growing weight in the region. Berlin released its Indo-Pacific policy document in September 2020, months before the EU.
Bayern, a German frigate, set sail for the Indo-Pacific for the first time in 20 years in August of last year (August 2021 and February 2022), visiting 11 countries during its seven-month cruise, including Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, and Singapore. China refused a port visit for the frigate.
Germany downplays the deployment
According to Gerhartz, the planes’ route would “barely touch” the South China Sea and will not sail over the Taiwan Strait. These two issues are causing friction with Beijing.
The South China Sea and Taiwan are definitely the region’s sticking points, Gerhartz said, adding that the German Eurofighters will fly at a height of more than 10 kilometres, hardly touching the South China Sea, and will go on international routes.
Gerhartz said Germany was not sending any hostile message to China by going to an exercise in Australia.
Tensions between China and Western nations have grown in recent weeks due to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s travel to Taiwan, which Beijing regards as part of Chinese territory.
China announced new military manoeuvres on Tuesday in response to the United States backing for Taiwan. However, Beijing provided little information regarding new military exercises, and it was unclear where and when drills would occur, as it usually does.
On Monday, a five-member US delegation led by Democratic Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts met with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, attracting China’s ire. The US team, which arrived late Sunday, stated unequivocally that it was come to reiterate its support for Taiwan, which China claims as its own.
Germany is at odds with China over Taiwan
On June 30, China chastised NATO for its “Cold War mentality.” The criticism came amid a NATO conference in Spain when officials saw China as a threat to the alliance.
According to Zhao Lijian, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, NATO should forsake the Cold War mindset, zero-sum game, and the practice of making enemies and not try to mislead Asia after undermining Europe. NATO nations, he claimed, were “creating tension and provoking conflict” by moving warships and planes to the coastlines of mainland Asia and the South China Sea.
Germany and the EU aim to enhance the rules-based international order by deepening their security involvement in the (Indo-Pacific, Ed.) area, said a German Foreign Ministry statement issued ahead of Europe’s first Indo-Pacific Ministerial Forum on February 22.
Germany is anticipated to get increasingly involved in Indo-Pacific security concerns, but within a European framework and perhaps not as aggressively as France.
Germany’s most important trading partner is China. If Berlin took a firm stance against China’s ambitions to reclaim Taiwan, major confrontation could erupt, particularly in economic terms. However, if Germany remains silent, it contradicts its claims to have a “values-based” foreign policy. In any case, Berlin is finding it impossible to stay out of the developing dispute between China and the United States.
Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock made headlines on Monday, one day before Pelosi arrived in Taiwan, with a comment at a United Nations summit on nuclear weapons in New York. Germany does not accept when international law is breached and a larger neighbour invades its smaller neighbour in violation of international law — and this, of course, includes China, said the Green Party lawmaker.
Patricia Flor, the German ambassador to China, was called to the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Tuesday. Flor then said on Twitter, “Frank debate today!”
During her discussion with Vice Foreign Minister Deng Li, she clarified that Germany supports the One China Policy. This approach includes exchanges with Taiwanese authorities, she said. Flor’s use of the phrase “authorities” rather than “government” is deliberate. Taiwan is not formally recognised as an independent state by Germany; instead, it is considered a part of China. There are no interactions at the highest levels.