Germany actually wanted to meet China by offering the frigate Bavaria a port visit in Shanghai.

With the visit, the German government wanted to prevent Beijing from perceiving the dispatch of the German warship to the Indo-Pacific and the South China Sea as a provocation.

The conciliatory signal fell on deaf ears in China, however.

Beijing refused to allow the German marines to go ashore.

The Federal Foreign Office in Berlin only said this week that they had "taken note of" the decision.

Bayern itself announced on Twitter that instead of Shanghai, they would now stop in Darwin, Australia.

Friederike Böge

Political correspondent for China, North Korea and Mongolia.

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The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs justified the rejection of the port visit indirectly with a lack of trust.

The spokesman Zhao Lijian said that China regards relations with Germany, including the cooperation between the armed forces, as important and is ready for “friendly exchanges based on mutual respect and trust”.

However, it is up to Germany to “create favorable conditions for this”.

The route was communicated openly

His further reasoning seemed to amount to the fact that China regards any passage of a non-Asian warship through the South China Sea as a violation of its sovereignty. It is up to China and the ASEAN states to ensure stability in the region, said Zhao Lijian. In recent years, "certain countries have regularly sent warships and planes to the South China Sea region in the name of freedom of sea to flex their muscles, cause trouble and deliberately create conflicts over maritime affairs." mainly on the United States. With regard to Germany, Zhao Lijian added, "We hopethat countries outside the region respect the efforts of regional countries to protect peace and stability in the South China Sea and can play a constructive role in this regard ”.

The decision is only the latest evidence that Beijing is showing less and less diplomatic agility in matters of its territorial “core interests”. In Beijing there is talk of the “wagon-castle mentality”. China sees itself surrounded by supposedly hostile forces. There is therefore less and less room for a middle position preferred by the outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel in the major conflict between China and the United States. Chinese naval ships visited Kiel Week in 2016 and 2018.

When planning the deployment of the frigate Bavaria, Germany had avoided all sorts of things that could have provoked China.

It had been made clear early on that Bayern would not cross the Taiwan Strait.

In the South China Sea, Bavaria should only use the usual international shipping routes and not approach archipelagos, which China, contrary to the ruling of the Hague Arbitration Court of 2016, regards as its own territory.

Also, no joint maneuvers with allies in the South China Sea were planned.

Allies weren't happy

Unlike Great Britain, for example, Germany had openly communicated the details of the mission.

The British carrier combat group HMS Queen Elizabeth had recently angered China by conducting intensive maneuvers in the Indo-Pacific with American destroyers, American fighter jets and Dutch ships. 

China renounced a face-saving solution.

It would have specified the pandemic as the reason for Bavaria's refusal to visit the port.

The country could have referred to its strict corona rules and similar cases in the region.

For example, the association around HMS Queen Elizabeth canceled a planned port visit in Busan, South Korea, due to the pandemic.

Perhaps one in Berlin is not too sad about the rejection from Beijing. The duality of the German mission had not met with approval from all allies. After all, the first dispatch of a German warship to the Indo-Pacific in almost 20 years was primarily intended as a gesture to the value partners in the region and as a commitment to a rule-based order that is being questioned by China.