French assault ship Dixmude and a frigate sailed near the disputed Spratly Islands and other nearby islets as a part of a FONOP in the South China Sea, AFP reported. A researcher from the Hudson Institute think-tank, who was on board during the operation, said that several Chinese warships "tailed" Dixmude until it left the area.
"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 said in a video interview.
Although it is the US that conducts most of the FONOPs in the South China Sea, France and the UK also actively participate in them. AFP has reported that Paris is planning on sending more ships to the Indo-Pacific region to conduct military exercises in a bid to counter what Western countries have called Beijing's efforts to "militarize the South China Sea."
Several countries claim sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea. Most recent reports show that China has been actively deploying military equipment, missile systems, jets on the Spratly and Paracel islands. Beijing claims that the deployed forces play a purely defensive role.
The US has demanded China cease its activities in the region and regularly conducts FONOPs, claiming the waters of the South China Sea must remain international. Beijing has slammed the US for sending its military ships to the disputed islands as provocative actions and has demanded Washington stop them.