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German Navy Chief Vice Admiral Schönbach Tenders His Resignation After Talking Tough On China

German Navy Chief Vice Admiral Kay-Achim Schönbach tended his resignation late on Saturday over his comments in India that Ukraine never become a NATO member and cannot get back Crimea while adding to remarks that Russian President Vladimir Putin “probably” deserved respect. While Navy Chief spoke on the Ukraine crisis, it was his ‘tough remark’ on China which sent another flurry among the experts of geopolitics. In the wide-ranging talk at M-IDSA, Schoenbach said that India must forge wider military alliances internationally to shield itself against a potential war with China.

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German Navy Chief Vice Admiral Kay-Achim Schönbach tended his resignation late on Saturday over his comments in India that Ukraine cannot become a NATO member never get back Crimea while adding to remarks that Russian President Vladimir Putin “probably” deserved respect.

Navy Chief Schönbach was addressing a think tank, the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA) in India where he made remarks, leading to the diplomatic fire and fury in Germany and elsewhere.  He was speaking on the Germany’s Indo-pacific strategy.

Speaking at think tank MP-IDSA on Friday, he said, "Does Russia really wants small and tiny strip of Ukraine soil, integrate the country. No, this is nonsense. Putin is probably putting pressure because he knows he can do it, and he splits EU opinion. What he really wants is respect. "

Over the comments, Ukraine's foreign ministry summoned the German Ambassador Anka Feldhusen in Kiev on Saturday.  

While the Navy chief Vice Adm Schoenbach’s comments are seen in the context where the new German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is trying to tone down the rising tension across border of Russia and Ukraine. Russia demands that NATO keeps Ukraine out of its membership. There are massive military build-up along the border. While the Western powers have been warning Russia against further aggressive moves against Ukraine, Russia denies and blames NATO led military support to Ukraine. Russia perceives such build up and NATO at its boarder a growing threat. While talks are being held but without any concrete results.

In his comments, the German Navy chief explained that good ties are needed with Russia to rein in China and Crimea being lost now. He explained, "Even we India, Germany we need Russia, We need Russia against China...Having this big country, even if it's not a democracy, as a bilateral partner, giving them a chance. It's easy and keeps Russia away from China because China needs resources of Russia".

Later navy chief Schoenbach sought to neutralize its comments and termed it as ‘‘personal’’. On Saturday, he made it clear that his comments did not represent the government's view and had been ill-advised. Vice Adm Schoenbach later explained on Twitter saying “it was clearly a mistake.” “My defence policy remarks during a talk session at a think tank in India reflected my personal opinion in that moment. They in no way reflect the official position of the defence ministry.”

The chief of the German Navy, Vice Admiral Kay-Achim Schönbach, was in New Delhi for high level consultations with his Indian Navy. The German frigate FGS Bayern (F217) dropped anchor in Mumbai as a part of its seven-month deployment to the Indo-Pacific region. Germany considers the Indo-Pacific to be the entire region characterised by the Indian and the Pacific Oceans. The visit marks the last stop of the frigate’s deployment, which saw German Naval presence in the region after a decade. Germany and India are advocates of free trade.

Navy Chief  Schoenbach’s tough stance  on China

While Navy chief spoke on the Ukraine crisis, it was his ‘tough remark’ on China which sent another flurry among the experts of geopolitics.  In the wide-ranging talk at MP-IDSA, Schoenbach said that India must forge wider military alliances internationally to shield itself against a potential war with China.

Though it is fact that China has been showing its aggression what can be termed as a quasi –war like situation and possess real threat that needs not much deliberation, Admiral Schonbach’s official remarks came as a surprise against Germany’s measured approach towards China. 

In the present context of geopolitics, Germany has been treading cautiously over China. While Germany is the second EU country to have an Indo-pacific policy after France, it seeks to maintain its growing economic partnership with Beijing. Though lately, Germany has not hesitated taking China on the issues over Hong Kong. Germany’s renewed focus on Indo-pacific is the waft of its pragmatic policy which is evolving around the need to speak against the breakdown of international maritime laws by China in and around South China Sea. 

He further added: “You all (ASEAN and India) suffer from China, as we do. And we will suffer even more if we don’t do anything against it.”

In his remarks navy chief suggested that India and the European Union should strike pacts with Russia, saying: “India and Germany, we need Russia. Because we need Russia against China.”

He added: “This will keep Russia away from China… because China needs the resources from Russia and they were willing to give them because our sanctions make it difficult.” 

He added: “Having this big country, even if it is not a democracy as a partner, with EU and US, is easy work, and this will keep Russia away from China.”

At the same time, taking the wider overview and China’s outreach in Africa, vice-admiral Schoenbach also warned about China’s investments in Africa, saying: “The first step to accept is what China is doing even in Africa or elsewhere. China is giving money to dictators, to killers, to criminals. It doesn’t matter as long as they give resources to China.”

 Admiral further explained that China brought in its own workers to install hi-tech systems and very few Africans were involved in their projects. Referring to widely acknowledged policy of debt-trap by China over financing reckless and unsustainable projects across the world, Vice admiral said: “If you do this you can never pay back the credit. It is impossible.”

The German defence ministry issued a statement that “the content and choice of words of the statements in no way correspond to the position of the Federal Ministry of Defense."  According the defence ministry spokesman: “Government will discuss the navy chief's statements on Monday.”