BERLIN: Germany dispatched a frigate to the Indo-Pacific region Monday for the first time in almost 20 years, a move that could put strain on Berlin’s delicate relationship with Beijing.

The “Bayern” sailed from Wilhelmshaven harbour with more than 200 soldiers on board for a six-month mission to strengthen Germany’s presence in the region that will take it to Singapore, South Korea, and Australia.

Crucially, it will also pass through the South China Sea, a flashpoint of tensions between China, its neighbours in the region and their western allies such as the United States.

“The message is clear: we are standing up for our values and interests together with our partners and allies,” said Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer ahead of the ship’s departure.

“For our partners in the Indo-Pacific, it is a reality that sea routes are no longer open and secure, and that claims to territory are being applied by the law of might is right,” she added.

Yet Kramp-Karrenbauer insisted the mission was not directed against any particular country, and noted that Germany had offered to visit a Chinese harbour “in order to maintain dialogue”.

The ship will also take part in the EU’s Atalanta anti-piracy mission in East Africa and help monitor UN sanctions against North Korea.

“The Indo-Pacific is where the shape of the international order of the future will be decided. We want to help shape it and take responsibility for the rules-based international order,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Sunday.

Beijing’s actions in the South China Sea have long fuelled tensions with the West, with US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin emphasising last week that China’s claims have “no basis in international law”.

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