BEIJING (Reuters) - A French frigate has docked at a port in southern China on a four-day visit to China’s South China Sea fleet, China’s military said on Wednesday, amid tensions between China and United States over the disputed waters.
The Vendémiaire docked at Zhanjiang in the southern province of Guangdong on Tuesday morning for a four day “friendly visit”, the official People’s Liberation Army Daily said.
It will participate in a maritime exercise about accidental encounters at sea, and French and Chinese naval personnel will visit each others’ ships and play soccer, the short report added.
The activities will “increase mutual understanding, trust and cooperation between the two nations’ navies”, it said.
The Vendémiaire is on its eighth visit to China, the newspaper added. It comes ahead of French President Francois Hollande’s visit to China next week.
China has rebuked Washington for sending a U.S. guided-missile destroyer close to one of Beijing’s man-made islands in the South China Sea, saying it had tracked and warned the ship and called in the U.S. ambassador to protest.
France and the United States are both key members of NATO.
The USS Lassen’s patrol on Tuesday was the most significant U.S. challenge yet to the 12-nautical-mile territorial limits China claims around artificial islands it has built in the Spratly archipelago.
China claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion of world trade passes every year. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard