South China Sea: Expert predicts no conflict for five years
A French frigate docked at Cam Ranh Port in Vietnam on Tuesday for helicopter repairs, according to local reports. But the French ambassador to Vietnam said the frigate’s visit was in support of “freedom of navigation”, challenging China’s claim of sovereignty over the South China Sea.
Marc Razafindranaly, French defence attache in Vietnam, said the frigate Prairial had left Tahiti of French Polynesia on January 1 and reached Cam Ranh Port in south central Khanh Hoa Province on Tuesday.
The Prairial is a Floreal-class frigate, spanning 93.5 meters and has a maximum speed of 37 kph.
The French embassy in Hanoi added the frigate docked in Vietnam as part of a military cooperation framework.
Ambassador Nicolas Warnery added: “The frigate’s visit at this time is meant to deliver a message in support of freedom of navigation in the air and at sea, which is shared by both Vietnam and France.”
China has previously been criticised for its aggressive claims of “sovereignty” in the South China Sea.
The US heavily opposes China’s maritime sovereignty claims and on several occasions has sent its own warships to the disputed waters to promote “freedom of the seas”.
But experts Admiral James Stavridis and author Elliot Ackerman warned there is a “real and increasing” risk US and Beijing will “stumble into war” over the competing claims.
They told Time Magazine: “It will require not only imagination, but the hard work of creating a national strategy that can employ all our considerable tools of state – diplomacy, economics, military deterrence, culture, communications – if we are to avoid sleepwalking into a 21st century war.”