France is stepping up its naval activities in the Asia-Pacific. Last month, the French navy conducted joint exercises with the United States, Australian and Indian navies, just weeks after a separate naval drill with India that involved two aircraft carriers. In April, the French frigate Vendemiaire made a rare passage through the strategically important Taiwan Strait. Some observers fear that these maneuvers could heighten tensions with Beijing, but so far, both France and China have worked to prevent that from happening, says Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a professor of government and international studies at Hong Kong Baptist University. In an email interview with WPR, he discusses the strategic thinking behind France’s increased naval engagement in the Asia-Pacific region and the Chinese response.
World Politics Review: What is driving France’s recent military deployments in China’s backyard? How much staying power does the French Navy have in the Asia-Pacific?
Jean-Pierre Cabestan: France’s recent naval deployments in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait show its willingness to promote and defend international norms—in this particular case, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS. Like the United States and most other naval powers, France is attached to freedom of navigation in all international waters.