U.S. officials confirmed on Wednesday that the French frigate Vendemiaire sailed through the Strait of Taiwan on April 6 and Chinese military vessels shadowed it.
The operation does not appear to have been coordinated with the United States, which frequently enrages China with freedom of navigation operations through waters illegally claimed by Beijing. The French warship’s transit equally upset the Chinese, who retaliated by rescinding France’s invitation to participate in a naval parade.
“Colonel Patrik Steiger, the spokesman for France’s military chief of staff, declined to comment on an operational mission. The U.S. officials did not speculate on the purpose of the passage or whether it was designed to assert freedom of navigation,” Reuters reported on Wednesday.
The South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported on Thursday that Taiwan’s military was “well aware” of the French frigate’s presence. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen stressed the Taiwan Strait is considered an international waterway through which both military and civilian vessels may pass.
Analysts quoted by the SCMP said vessels from various countries regularly pass through the Taiwan Strait without much fanfare, but the French warship’s movements have been publicized to send a message to China that other U.S. allies might soon follow suit by sending their own ships through the strait.
The Chinese defense ministry on Thursday announced France’s invitation to a naval parade celebrating the 70th anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army Navy was rescinded and that it had filed formal protests with the French government. A Chinese military source said they asked the Vendemiaire not to participate in the parade but France could still send a delegation to observe.
The flotilla took place on Tuesday, ironically requiring warships from several foreign countries to sail through the Strait of Taiwan (with China’s express permission) to participate.
The Chinese source said the French warship’s passage through the Strait of Taiwan was “obviously instigated” by the United States in a bid to “embarrass” Beijing.
“The navy passes on average once a year in the Taiwan Strait without incident or reaction. France reaffirms its attachment to the freedom of navigation in accordance with the law of the sea,” the French defense ministry said in response to China’s complaints.
The Chinese also criticized Britain on Thursday for sending a warship near the Paracel islands in the South China Sea in August, suggesting that China is growing increasingly belligerent towards foreign nations that do not recognize its dubious territorial claims.