France to continue sailing in South China Sea

Patricia Lourdes Viray (Philstar.com) – June 4, 2019 – 3:58pm

MANILA, Philippines — In a bid to preserve free and open access to the seas, France vowed to maintain its operations in the South China Sea.

Speaking at the 2019 Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly said Paris would address the issue with its own “steady, non-confrontational but obstinate way.”

“We will continue to sail more than twice a year in the South China Sea,” Parly said in her speech.

During last year’s security summit, Parly disclosed that at least five French ships sailed through the contested waterway in 2017. British helicopters and ships joined the France task force that sailed in the South China Sea.

The French defense minister also urged other like-minded states to join them, such as British helicopters that went on French ships that sailed through the disputed waters.

“There will be objections, there will be dubious manoeuvres at sea, but we will not be intimidated into accepting any fait accompli, because what international law condemns, how could we condone?” Parly said.

Parly stressed that maintaining open access to maritime lines of communication goes beyond the prosperity of Europe and the preservation of trade links. Nearly one-third of the global maritime trade passes through the South China Sea.

France has been leading other European nations in challenging China’s dominance in the region.

In June last year, Chinese frigates and corvettes followed a French military vessel passing through the Spratly Islands.

Hudson Institute senior fellow Jonas Parello-Plesner, in a report published in The Wall Street Journal, narrated how the Chinese warship asked the French vessel its intentions.

Australia had also expressed its commitment to upholding freedom of navigation in the region. 

In September 2018, Australian Minister for Defense Christopher Pyne said Canberra was looking forward to a multi-flagged formation with Paris in the region.

“In terms of the South China Sea, both Australia and France share a common view, which is that the South China Sea is international waters and that we are entitled to navigate as we see fit, and through the norm practice of any country, navigating through the South China Sea,” Pyne said in September.

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