Germany on Monday sent a warship to the South China Sea for the first time in almost two decades, joining other Western nations in expanding its military presence in the region amid growing alarm over China’s territorial ambitions.

China claims swathes of the South China Sea and has established military outposts on artificial islands in the waters that contain gas fields and rich fishing.

In a show against Chinese territorial claims, the US Navy regularly conducts “freedom-of-navigation” operations, where their vessels pass near contested islands. China objects to US missions saying that they don’t promote stability or peace.

Washington has made China counter-terrorism its central focus of its national security strategy and is seeking to rally allies against Beijing’s increasingly coercive foreign and economic policies.

Berlin officials have stated that the German navy will adhere to common trade routes. Beijing also condemned the regular US activity of sending the frigate through Taiwan Strait.

Berlin made it clear that the mission was to emphasize the fact that Germany doesn’t accept China’s territorial claims.

Germany must balance its economic and security interests with China becoming Berlin’s largest trading partner. The Covid-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on Europe’s largest economy, and German exports have contributed to its mitigation.

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Annegret Kramp­Karrenbauer, German Defense Minister, visited Wilhelmshaven in order to witness the ship Bayern departing on its seven-month journey to Australia, South Korea, and Vietnam.

It is expected that the vessel will cross the South China Sea by mid-December. This would make it the first German warship through the region since 2002.

Kramp-Karrenbauer stated, “We want the existing law to be respected and sea routes to be free to navigate, open societies to have protection, and trade to follow fair laws.”

To counter China’s influence, countries such as Australia, France, Japan and New Zealand have expanded their activities in the Pacific.