In what comes as a major development, France is all set to enter China’s backyard militarily – the East China Sea, a region which is a major bone of contention between Japan and China. The involvement of France in the East China Sea, as reported by Reuters, comes in the form of a trilateral arrangement among Japan, U.S. and France. It must be remembered that France is the only major European power, not to mention the second UNSC permanent member after the U.S. to join the anti-Beijing club in the East China Sea.
The three powers – Japan, U.S. and France are slated to conduct joint military drills in the region on land and sea for the first time in May next year. The drills, which are to be conducted on one of Japan’s uninhabited outlying islands, will focus on providing relief during a natural disaster, although it has been reported by the Japanese daily Sankei that the same could also form the basis for a defensive against a Chinese attack.
Admiral Pierre Vandier, Chief of Staff of the French Navy, was quoted as saying by the newspaper, “We want to demonstrate our presence to the region and send a message about Japan-France cooperation.” He added, “This is a message aimed at China. This is a message about multi-lateral partnerships and the freedom of passage.”
It goes without saying that the move by France to jump into the fray in the East China Sea is a tremendously bold, significant and far-reaching one. France’s involvement in the Indo-Pacific was already a major eyesore for China, and now, the UNSC member joining a trilateral with the U.S. and Japan to take on Beijing in its own backyard will definitely be making Xi Jinping sweat blood.
East China Sea is the region which China has been acting aggressively in for quite some time now. It is here that Beijing is embroiled in territorial disputes with Japan, and it is here that Taiwan also lies. Therefore, when France enters the East China Sea, it effectively signals to Beijing that Taiwan has its covert support. Additionally, the Japanese Senkaku Islands, which China claims and calls as Diaoyu, are also located here. As such, while China has embroiled itself in multiple conflicts in the region, it now finds itself isolated in the face of a massive U.S.-Japan-France trilateral taking shape.
Senkaku Islands are the subject matter of rising Sino-Japanese tensions. The Chinese vessels have been hovering around these Japanese islands, and Tokyo has repeatedly objected to such Chinese incursions violating their country’s maritime sovereignty. The Japanese Foreign Minister only recently publicly humiliated his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi during a joint press conference by saying that the Islands which China claimed as its own were Japan’s sovereign territory, and that Beijing should behave itself.
French President Emmanuel Macron has now signalled that he is willing to challenge China right in its backyard, instead of the South China Sea or the Indo Pacific at large, where the European power in any case has a significant naval presence. Macron is willing to take up a diplomatic fight with China, and challenge the paper dragon’s rise in the region, for the larger good of the democratic and free world order. This is despite Germany as the de facto EU head under Chancellor Angela Merkel, having a soft corner for Beijing. In many ways, France’s move to take on China also sends subtle messages across the European Union.
Earlier this year, as the COVID-19 pandemic was spreading its tentacles across the world, Macron had said that China’s numbers could not be trusted, adding that there was no comparison between countries where information flowed freely and citizens could criticise their governments and those where the truth was suppressed. He had also said that it was ‘naïve’ to suggest that China had handled the pandemic well. From calling those who trusted China naïve, to taking on the paper dragon right in its backyard, France led by Macron has indeed come a long way.