French Mistral ships built for Russia could be sold to China

France could opt to sell the Mistral warships originally earmarked for Russia, to China, according to a Chinese news outlet as a French naval delegation has docked in Shanghai for the first time since 2013.

The two Mistral class vessels have been the subject of an ongoing saga, as France agreed to sell them to Russia in the last year of president Nicolas Sarkozy's presidency for €1.2 billion in 2011. However since Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine last year France and the West's relations with Russia have deteriorated, prompting France to indefinitely postpone the delivery of the ships, much to the Kremlin's disapproval.

Over the weekend France sent one Mistral-class ship, Dixmude, to Shanghai with an Aconit La Fayette-class frigate, docking there for a week, the South China Morning Post reports. The naval visitors were greeted by a celebrating Chinese military officers, while Captain Pierre de Briancon, commanding officer of the Dixmude was quoted as saying that the two countries "want to know each other better".

The visit has prompted Chinese news outlet Duowei News to speculate that France could opt to sell the two Mistral-class ships to China, as it continues to try and find a way to avoid the diplomatic difficulty of having to sell two warships to Russia while the Ukraine conflict is still ongoing.

The future of the Mistral ships deal remains uncertain and both Russia and France have made contradictory statements on the progress of the sale.

Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin told press last month that France could not resell the ships to anyone without Russia's agreement, but the the spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry, Roman Nadal refused to comment on this.

In March the general secretary of Russia's naval maintenance body estimated Russia could design and build a vessel "analogous" to the French vessels by 2020.

French president Francois Hollande said during September's NATO conference in Newport that while the sale had not been stopped or suspended, the ships would not be delivered as long as Russia continued to interfere in Ukraine.

Despite Rogozin insisting that the delivery "was going as planned" just a month later, the ships have yet to be delivered.