It is a popular myth that France is a “weak” nation, as they have the fifth most powerful military on Earth after the US, Russia, China, and India. In a rare move, the France Navy sent a warship through the Taiwan Strait to the praise of the US and the anger of China according to a report:
A French warship passed through the strategic Taiwan Strait this month, U.S. officials told Reuters, a rare voyage by a vessel of a European country that is likely to be welcomed by Washington but increase tensions with Beijing.
The passage is a sign that U.S. allies are increasingly asserting freedom of navigation in international waterways near China. It could open the door for other allies, such as Japan and Australia, to consider similar operations.
The French operation comes amid increasing tensions between the United States and China. Taiwan is one of a growing number of flashpoints in the U.S.-China relationship, which also include a trade war, U.S. sanctions and China’s increasingly muscular military posture in the South China Sea, where the United States also conducts freedom of navigation patrols.
Two officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a French military vessel carried out the transit in the narrow waterway between China and Taiwan on April 6.
One of the officials identified the warship as the French frigate Vendemiaire and said it was shadowed by the Chinese military. The official was not aware of any previous French military passage through the Taiwan Strait.
The officials said that as a result of the passage, China notified France it was no longer invited to a naval parade to mark the 70 years since the founding of China’s Navy. Warships from India, Australia and several other nations participated.
Colonel Patrik Steiger, the spokesman for France’s military chief of staff, declined to comment on an operational mission.
The U.S. officials did not speculate on the purpose of the passage or whether it was designed to assert freedom of navigation.
The French strait passage comes against the backdrop of increasingly regular passages by U.S. warships through the strategic waterway. Last month the United States sent Navy and Coast Guard ships through the Taiwan Strait.
The passages upset China, which claims self-ruled Taiwan as part of its territory. Beijing has been ramping up pressure to assert its sovereignty over the island.
Chen Chung-chi, spokesman for Taiwan’s defense ministry, told Reuters by phone the strait is part of busy international waters and it is “a necessity” for vessels from all countries to transit through it. He said Taiwan’s defense ministry will continue to monitor movement of foreign vessels in the region.
There was no immediate comment from China’s foreign or defense ministries.
“This is an important development both because of the transit itself but also because it reflects a more geopolitical approach by France towards China and the broader Asia Pacific,” said Abraham Denmark, a former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia.
The transit is a sign that countries like France are not only looking at China through the lens of trade but from a military standpoint as well, Denmark said.
Last month France and China signed deals worth billions of euros during a visit to Paris by Chinese President Xi Jinping. French President Emmanuel Macron wants to forge a united European front to confront Chinese advances in trade and technology.
“It is important to have other countries operating in Asia to demonstrate that this is just not a matter of competition between Washington and Beijing, that what China has been doing represents a broader challenge to a liberal international order,” Denmark, who is currently with the Woodrow Wilson Center think-tank in Washington, added.
This is a very important development with China because, while it is about keeping the waterway open and away from Chinese overexertion of control into that region, it also is provoking the Chinese, who know they cannot react militarily lest they find themselves in a war with the US and Western Europe, and most importantly, Japan.
China is a powerful nation, but not as powerful as the US, and they suffer from many internal problems. They also know that they cannot rely on the Russians, for as much as the Russians and the Chinese are allies in name, the Russians do not trust the Chinese, and China has been making consistent attempts to encroach into Russian territory. Japan cannot wait for a war with China, for just as the Europeans want to reassert their old empires, the Japanese want to do the same in China. But unlike the Europeans, the Japanese do not care about the evils they committed, and would commit them again without any care at all.
But don’t think for a second that France is not looking out for her own interests. France intervened many times in China as part of joint British military efforts during the 19th century, and Cochinchina, known now as Vietnam, was a French possession until the 1950s. It was also the French who in the 1860s worked with the US to modernize the Japanese military, which included building warships for the Japanese Navy.
It appears that the Anglo-French military union of the past is returning, except this time it is in the modern form of the Anglo-American alliance with the French.
It will be interesting to watch China’s reaction, and to see if other nations will attempt to send warships or other vehicles of commerce through the Taiwan Strait. It will also be interesting to watch for French military developments in Japan, as that would follow the American trend of military assistance to Japan. The same can be said about Korea, as France has intervened with Korea on behalf of the same alliance before.