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BERLIN: Germany is sending 13 military aircraft to joint exercises in Australia, the air force’s largest peacetime deployment, underlining Berlin’s increased focus on the Indo-Pacific amid rising tensions with China in the region.

Last year, a German warship sailed into the South China Sea for the first time in almost 20 years, a move that saw Berlin joining other Western nations in expanding its military presence in the region amid growing alarm over Beijing’s territorial ambitions.

Tensions have also risen over Taiwan since China - which claims Taiwan as its own territory - kicked off military drills around the democratically governed island after US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei at the start of August.

On Monday, six Eurofighter jets took off from a base in Neuburg an der Donau in southern Germany and three A330 tankers from Cologne for the three-day flight to Australia where they will, together with four German A400M transporters that have already left, join 16 other nations in the biennial exercise Pitch Black.

During the deployment, which includes detours to Japan and South Korea, the pilots will conduct almost 200 mid-air refuellings of the fighter jets, German air force chief Ingo Gerhartz told reporters ahead of the mission.

Asked whether the war planes will pass the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, two flashpoints of tensions with China in the region, Gerhartz said the aircraft would use civilian air traffic routes and that no passage of the Taiwan Strait was planned.

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