Germany sends troops to Australia for first time amid Indo-Pacific tension
PHOTO CAPTION: Personnel with the German Maritime Interdiction Operations Company conduct lateral drills during live-fire training during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022. Hawaii, June 29, 2022. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Haley Fourmet Gustavsen via U.S. Defense Visual Information Distribution Service)
By Sabine Siebold
BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany will, for the first time, send troops to Australia as part of joint drills with some 30,000 service members from 12 other nations, underlining Berlin's increased focus on the Indo-Pacific amid rising tensions with China in the region.
In recent years, Germany has had a greater military presence in the Indo-Pacific, even as this means walking a tightrope between its security and economic interests.
"It is a region of extremely high importance for us in Germany as well as for the European Union due to the economic interdependencies", Army Chief Alfons Mais told Reuters in an interview published on Monday, hours before the first German troops were to leave for Australia.
China is Berlin's most important trading partner, and 40% of Europe's foreign trade flows through the South China Sea, a waterway that is a focal point for territorial disputes in the Indo-Pacific.
In 2021, a German warship sailed into the South China Sea for the first time in almost 20 years. Last year, Berlin sent 13 military aircraft to joint exercises in Australia, the air force's largest peacetime deployment.
Mais said up to 240 German soldiers, among them 170 paratroopers and 40 marines, will take part in the Talisman Sabre exercise from July 22 to August 4, the largest drills between Australia and the U.S., held bi-annually.
The Germans will train in jungle warfare and landing operations alongside soldiers from countries such as Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, France and Britain.
"We aim to demonstrate that we are reliable and capable partners that contribute to stabilizing the rules-based order in the region", Mais said.
When asked what message the first deployment of German troops to Australia was meant to send to China, he underscored Berlin did not aim to antagonize anybody.
"It generally makes sense to get to know the perspective others have upon the world", said the lieutenant general, adding that the current security challenges were much less clear-cut than before 1990.
"The Cold War was easy, it was a bi-polar world. Today, we can no longer focus on Europe only...we have to position ourselves much more broadly," the army chief underscored.
Mais plans to visit the German troops in Australia and a Rheinmetall plant assembling Boxer armoured transport vehicles for both armies in mid-July, before travelling on to Japan and Singapore.
"Japan is a partner that holds a lot of potential for a deepening of our bilateral military cooperation," he said. As for Talisman Sabre, the German troops already have orders to return to Australia for the next exercise in 2025.
(Reporting by Sabine Siebold; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel)