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France challenges Beijing in South China Sea

AFP  |  Paris 

is increasing its military presence in the region, sending warships through the Sea and planning air exercises to help counter China's military build-up in disputed waters.

In late May, the French assault ship Dixmude and a frigate sailed through the disputed and around a group of reefs that has turned into islets to push back against Beijing's claim to own most of the resource-rich Sea.

"Our patrol involved passing close to these islets to obtain intelligence with all the sensors it is possible to use in international waters," the Dixmude's commanding officer, Jean Porcher, told reporters in a video interview.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, a from the think-tank who was onboard, said that "several Chinese frigates and corvettes" tailed the French vessels.

Porcher said the ship maintained "cordial" radio contact with Chinese military vessels, "which were present in the area until we left". So far the has taken the lead in confronting China over its territorial claims in the Sea, which are contested by several neighbours, particularly

But France, which along with is the only European nation to regularly send its into the region, has also waded into the dispute, sending its ships into the Sea three to five times a year.

In August, the will stage its biggest-ever exercises in as part of a strategy to mark France's presence in a region that is home to 1.5 million French citizens in the country's overseas territories.

Three fighter jets, one troop transporter and a C135 refuelling tanker will fly from to India, with several stop-offs along the way. The sea and air operations follow a visit by last month to Australia, where he spoke of the need to protect the region from "hegemony" -- a veiled reference to Beijing's growing might.

He stressed that France, which will be the last country in the EU after leaves the bloc to have territories in the Pacific, did not want to antagonise China.

But a "strong axis" was needed to ensure respect for freedom of navigation and aviation in the region, he told Australian

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Tue, June 12 2018. 18:35 IST