A German frigate plans to make a port call at Tokyo in November after visiting Australia and Guam as part of its mission in the Indo-Pacific region, Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer has said.
The plan comes as China asserts territorial claims in the East and South China seas, with Germany vowing to reinforce ties with Japan and other regional partners by dispatching the Bayern and upholding freedom of navigation in international waters.
The naval vessel, which left the German port of Wilhelmshaven on Aug. 2, is expected to take part in joint drills with the Maritime Self-Defense Force in an effort to enhance coordination with Japan.
"It is important that Germany shows its presence in the Indo-Pacific region into the future," Kramp-Karrenbauer told Kyodo News in a recent interview.
In April, the defense and foreign ministers of Japan and Germany agreed to work closely toward establishing a rules-based order in the region during the countries' first so-called two-plus-two security dialogue.
France and Britain have also sent naval vessels to the Indo-Pacific, with the three European powers eyeing closer coordination with U.S. President Joe Biden's administration, which has been stepping up pressure on an increasingly assertive China.
In the first deployment of a German naval ship to the Indo-Pacific in nearly 20 years, the Bayern plans to visit South Korea before sailing in disputed areas of the South China Sea, where China has built fortified outposts, according to the minister.
The Bayern is also scheduled to visit Vietnam and other ports in the region during the seven-month mission.
"We would like to send a clear signal for the reinforcement of orders and multilateralism," said Kramp-Karrenbauer, a former leader of the Christian Democratic Union, Germany's ruling party.
She said she has informed her Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe of the Bayern's planned passage in the South China Sea.
Kramp-Karrenbauer said the strategically important waterway is international waters, and that she supports a 2016 international tribunal ruling that dismissed Beijing's claim to much of the South China Sea.
In the South China Sea, numerous sovereign claims to islands, rocks, and reefs overlap, with Beijing claiming the lion's share.
However, Kramp-Karrenbauer pointed out that China is an important economic partner of Germany, suggesting the Bayern is not expected to sail in the Taiwan Strait.
Germany released its comprehensive Indo-Pacific strategy last September, signaling the country's shift away from a China-centered Asia policy.
With Berlin aspiring to play a role in the region's waters, the minister said further deployments of vessels are being discussed as part of efforts for the country's continual engagement in the Indo-Pacific.
Germany is planning joint air force activities with Australia in the region next year as well, according to Kramp-Karrenbauer.