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France sends warships to South China Sea, ahead of maritime exercise with US

A file photo of French navy’s aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. Last week, France deployed a nuclear attack submarine in the South China Sea, in line with US President Joe Biden's call to mount a multilateral challenge to China. (AFP)Premium
A file photo of French navy’s aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. Last week, France deployed a nuclear attack submarine in the South China Sea, in line with US President Joe Biden's call to mount a multilateral challenge to China. (AFP)

According to a report, the French Navy said an amphibious assault ship the Tonnere and the frigate Surcouf had left their home port Toulon on Thursday and would travel to the Pacific on a three-month mission

Stepping up its presence in the South China Sea, France has planned two voyages through the disputed waters.

According to South China Morning Post, the French Navy said an amphibious assault ship the Tonnere and the frigate Surcouf had left their home port Toulon on Thursday and would travel to the Pacific on a three-month mission.

The website Naval News reported that the ships would cross the South China Sea twice and take part in a combined exercise with the Japanese and US militaries in May.

Capt Arnaud Tranchant, commanding officer of the Tonnerre, told Naval News that the French navy would "work to strengthen" France's partnership with the US, Japan, India and Australia - Quad.

When asked whether he was planning to transit the Taiwan Strait, he said he has "not yet traced our roads in this area".

Similar missions in 2015 and 2017 also saw French navy vessels sailing through the South China Sea, but analysts said the latest exercise is a sign of France stepping up engagement in the Indo Pacific region.

Last week, France deployed a nuclear attack submarine in the South China Sea, in line with US President Joe Biden's call to mount a multilateral challenge to China.

In a tweet earlier this week, France's Defense Minister Florence Parly announced that the European power has deployed the nuclear attack submarine Emeraude along with naval support ship Seine to the maritime area to "affirm that international law is the only rule that is valid, whatever the sea where we sail."

Other European powers such as the United Kingdom and Germany are also expected to deploy warships to the area in what increasingly looks like a concerted Western pushback against China's maritime ambitions.

European powers' growing involvement in regional geopolitics is consistent with the strategic priorities of the Biden administration, which has underscored its commitment to "working with our allies and partners" based "on the international rules of the road".

China claims virtually the entire South China Sea, something which is contested heavily by several countries in the region.

China's territorial claims in the South China Sea and its efforts to advance into the Indian Ocean are seen to have challenged the established rules-based system.

China has been increasing its maritime activities in both the South China Sea and the East China Sea over the past few months, partly in response to Beijing's concerns over the increasing US military presence in the region because of escalating Sino-US tensions.

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