France will send one its Mistral-class amphibious assault ships to the Western Pacific later this year for military drills with the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force, the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy, and the U.S. Navy.
According to a source who spoke to Reuters about the drills, the “amphibious exercise will send a clear message to China.”
Last year, at the 2016 Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French defense minister, offered a strongly worded statement of France’s interests in the Asia-Pacific and specifically the South China Sea, where China has come under scrutiny in recent years for constructing artificial islands and protesting the free navigation of military vessels under international law.
“If we want to contain the risk of conflict, we must defend this right, and defend it ourselves,” Le Drian noted then, referring to the freedom of the seas. “Several times per year, French navy ships cross the waters of this region, and they’ll continue to do it,” Le Drian added.
“This is a message that France will continue to be present at international forums,” Le Drian had said. “It’s also a message that France will continue to act upon, by sailing its ships and flying its planes wherever international law will allow, and wherever operational needs request that we do so.”
Le Drian did not name China specifically in his speech last year.
Thus, France’s intention to send a Mistral to the Western Pacific in a move intended to be seen by China represents a follow-up on existing French policy for the region. French interests in the Asia-Pacific are underpinned by a range of territories under its control, ranging from French Polynesia to New Caledonia.
Moreover, France has strongly supported international freedom of the seas in line with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas as the country has the world’s second largest exclusive economic zone after the United States.
The 21,300 tonne Mistral-class ships, which are also helicopter carriers and succeed the Foudre-class, are among the French Navy’s most powerful and modern assets. The ships can carry up to four amphibious landing craft and 16 heavy or 35 light helicopters.