June 20, 2021

In the Indo-Pacific, “we are facing a logic of suffocation”

The French navy carried out significant deployments in the Indo-Pacific in 2021, where China is growing in importance. Its Chief of Staff, Admiral Pierre Vandier, answered questions from World, Tuesday, June 8, to take stock.

The Chinese army recently stepped up military demonstrations in the Indo-Pacific: it massed 200 boats in front of the Whitsun islet claimed by the Philippines, mapped the depths of the Indian Ocean with drones, sent twenty J-20 fighters to the Taiwan air defense zone… How do you analyze these behaviors?

We have a lot of evidence showing a change in posture. Our boats are systematically followed, sometimes forced to maneuver in front of Chinese ships to avoid a collision, in defiance of the rules of freedom of navigation that we defend. Some of our stopovers in countries in the region where we used to pass through are canceled at the last moment, without clear explanations.

A “sanctuary” pressure extends beyond the first chain of islands in the China Sea [la ligne dite des « neuf traits » considérée par la Chine comme sa frontière immédiate]. This chain has been reclaimed, fixed aircraft carriers sanctuary space, and somehow crack the understanding of international law that was shared by all. Beyond that, logics of constraint are exerted on certain countries, here in order not to drill, there in order not to welcome foreign ships… Chinese military development obviously responds to a political will, and the white paper on Chinese defense in outlined the strategic objectives. The hardening reached a new phase, it was predictable.

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So you see more a logic of bastion than of disruption of maritime flows?

The approach is primarily territorial at the outset, and commercial. We are facing a power which has turned its back on the sea for five centuries but which, having become a world commercial power, will have to “maritimize”. We must find the means of discussing with a power which occupies its space and tries out the balance of power. We are facing a logic of suffocation. The approach is multidomain, it uses financial, economic, diplomatic and military levers, and can exert its pressure through hybrid warfare, cyber or many other means.

We have just learned that the Chinese navy will equip its aircraft carrier with a new dedicated aircraft, the FC-31. Is this the sign of this maritimization and a threat?

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