German frigate’s port call is a sign of solidarity with Singapore and Germany’s continued commitment to the Indo-Pacific Region
For The Straits Times
After crossing the South China Sea, the German frigate ‘Bayern’ will berth today at Changi Naval Base for a 16-day visit to Singapore that spans Christmas and New Year’s Eve. It has been nearly 20 years since German frigates cruised the region.
A young sailor on one of the previous voyages, Tilo Kalski, is now Commander of the ‘Bayern’. The frigate’s current deployment is significant on many counts.
First, the time and place - Asia is the most dynamic growth region in the world. A sizeable portion of world trade make their way through critical ‘blue arteries’ such as the Straits of Malacca. Southeast Asia is also becoming one of the main stages for new geo-political and geo-economic rivalries.
Acknowledging the strategic importance of the region, the German Government came up with a new policy framework for the Indo-Pacific in 2020. Underpinning the policy guidelines is the importance of the stability of the region to Germany’s security and prosperity. As such, cooperation with various countries in the Indo-Pacific has been stepped up considerably over the past year.
The deployment of the ‘Bayern’ plays a key role in this regard. Metaphorically speaking we cannot control the wind, but we can set our sails right. The objectives of the Indo-Pacific guidelines are key to the frigate’s presence and training mission: intensifying international cooperation with partners in the region, and supporting the German efforts to maintain the rules-based maritime order.
Prior to the stopover in Singapore, the frigate completed its assignment in contributing to the enforcement of United Nations’ sanctions on Pyongyang by looking out for suspected illegal ship-to-ship transfers involving North Korea-related vessels.
Other assignments during the ‘Bayern’s’ nearly seven-month-long mission through the Indo-Pacific include joint exercises with partners such as the Republic of Singapore Navy.
Earlier this month, Germany reaffirmed the universal character and primacy of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) and underscored the need to maintain the integrity of Unclos as the legal framework for all maritime activities.
While our concern is global, we are particularly concerned by the assertion of unlawful and sweeping maritime claims in the South China Sea, as well as ongoing intimidation and coercion against other states in the region in asserting their lawful rights.
Second, the port call by the ‘Bayern’ is significant in that it will take place less than two weeks after the new German government has taken up its duties. Even under new leadership, the Federal Government’s commitment to an Indo-Pacific region based on global norms and international law remains unchanged. Territorial disputes in the South and East China seas are to be resolved on the basis of international maritime law. The G7 presidency that Germany is poised to take over in January 2022 will strive to further strengthenmultilateralism and the rules-based international order.
Thirdly, the frigate’s presence is part of concerted EU efforts to step up its security engagement in the region. Under Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2020, EU-Asean ties were upgraded to the level of a strategic partnership. At the initiative of France, Germany and the Netherlands, an EU strategy was adopted that contributes to a coherent European approach.
The ‘Bayern’s mission is part of the early tangible outcomes of Germany’s Indo-Pacific policy guidelines. Others include training on the interpretation and implementation of Unclos for staff members at the Asean Secretariat and in Asean member states. Germany has also acceded to a regional cooperation agreement on combating piracy in Asia with a view to safeguarding the security of maritime routes.
While the security dimension plays a special role in its Indo-Pacific strategy, Germany with its new government sees scope for extending cooperation to far more policy areas such as tackling climate change, strengthening rules-based, fair and sustainable free trade and digital transformation.
In our relations with Singapore we can build on an existing strong foundation. More than 2,000 German companies providing more than 45,000 jobs locally are testimony to their confidence in Singapore and its business environment and the role the country plays as a regional hub. Singapore and Germany are already working together on multilateral initiatives like the Covax vaccine initiative and the Alliance for Multilateralism.
Commander Kalski’s active time at sea will end with this frigate’s Indo-Pacific deployment early next year, but Germany’s increased engagement in the region is here to stay.
Germany is well aware that a sustained effort in all policy fields is needed to live up to its commitment of broadening its footprint in Singapore and the region. The Federal Government wants to avoid unilateral dependencies and seeks to strengthen ties with the global players of tomorrow. To this end, it will continue to diversify its relations both geographically and strategically in areas of cooperation, in addition to its continued commitment to multilateralism, the rule of law and democracy.
With these new horizons, we look forward to strengthening our longstanding cooperation with Singapore across all fields. And when the ‘Bayern’ leaves after ushering in the new year in Singapore, it will continue its journey of promoting freedom of navigation and preserving the rules-based international order while also bringing back home a broader perspective and appreciation of this part of the world.
Dr Norbert Riedel is the German Ambassador to Singapore
This article was first published in the Straits Times on 20 December 2021.