On Friday, the German Navy frigate Bayern received a visit from Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi. The vessel, docked at Tokyo’s cruise terminal, is the first German military ship to visit the island nation in around 20 years. The Bayern, a Brandenburg class anti-submarine warfare frigate, has also used the visit as an opportunity to participate in training exercises alongside the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force.
The plans to send a frigate to the Indo-Pacific were originally revealed by German defense minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer in November 2020. The vessel finally set sail in August, causing a diplomatic incident with China which refused to accept a port visit to Shanghai unless Germany clarified the vessel’s intentions in the South China Sea. Ultimately, the port visit was denied after weeks of uncertainty with the Chinese Foreign Ministry publicly announcing in September that the ship was only in the region to “stir up trouble”.
The Chinese-government-linked Global Times went out of its way to mock the German deployment by saying that the vessel is “a moderate frigate of the German Navy with limited overall operational performance” and reminding German military capabilities are limited due to Germany being “a defeated country in World War II”.
This contrasts sharply with the more amicable words coming from the Japanese; Minister Kishi used the Bayern’s visit as an opportunity to highlight growing Japanese defense cooperation with Germany and Europe. Minister Kishi said:
“In the East China Sea and the South China Sea, we see unilateral attempts to change the status quo based on force, and these problems are a common concern not only in Asia but also in the rest of the world, including Europe.”
Germany released a new plan for its engagement with the Indo-Pacific in September 2020 and the Bayern’s visit serves as an opportunity to demonstrate it in action. German Vice Admiral Kay-Achim Schonbach told the press that he hopes to send a ship to the Pacific every two years and that “depending on the situation in the South China Sea” a new deployment may come in 2021. South Korea is the Bayern’s next destination.