Home Russia & China China Australian sunbathers startled to find three Chinese warships in Sydney Harbour

Australian sunbathers startled to find three Chinese warships in Sydney Harbour

Australians were surprised to see three Chinese warships sailing into the Sydney Harbour on Monday morning for a 4-day stop over because the Australian government had not publically announced such a visit. However, the Australian PM clarified that it is a “reciprocal visit” and the government was aware of it.

Sydney

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Australians enjoying a sunny winter morning were shocked by the sight of three Chinese warships steaming into Sydney Harbour Monday, forcing the prime minister to reassure jittery residents.

Amid heightened concern about Beijing’s growing clout and military muscle-flexing, the appearance of a Chinese flagged task group and around 700 sailors came as a surprise.

It also came as Prime Minister Scott Morrison was away on a visit to the Solomon Islands, a key player in the South Pacific that China is hoping to woo away from its recognition of Taiwan.

The timing of their visit has been questioned, coinciding with Morrison’s Solomons trip and on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the violent suppression of the Tiananmen demonstrations.

“It may have been a surprise to others, but it certainly wasn’t a surprise to the government,” Morrison told reporters in the Solomons capital Honiara when asked about the Chinese naval visit. “We have known about that for some time.”

Morrison described the port call as a “reciprocal visit, because Australian naval vessels have visited China”. “They were returning after a counter drug trafficking operation in the Middle East.”

The vessels appeared to be the Kunlun Shan, an amphibious landing ship; the Luoma Lake, a replenishment ship; and the Xuchang, a modern frigate that is believed to be fitted with surface-to-air and anti-submarine missile systems. They are scheduled to stay until Friday.

Alex Hart from 7News Sydney reported, “There was no announcement and no big welcome as three Chinese warships entered Sydney Harbour this morning. Officially, it’s a friendly visit strengthening ties between our two Navies but recent tensions meant the arrival was very short on fanfare.”

Read more: Australia blames China for laser attack on its planes

Australian PM Advises against “Overanalysis”

The timing of their visit has been questioned, coinciding with Morrison’s Solomons trip and on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the violent suppression of the Tiananmen demonstrations.

On 4 June 1989, the regime gunned down hundreds of its own citizens and jailed thousands more, after protesters demanded political change and an end to state corruption.

The arrival of the ships also comes just days after it was revealed that a Chinese warship had recently confronted an Australian vessel in the South China Sea, and Australian helicopter pilots had been targeted with lasers. “I think any reading into timing could be subject to a bit of overanalysis,” said Morrison.

Peter Jennings, an expert of the Australian Strategic Policy Institution, raised some critical questions of the Australian government’s handling of the arrival of Chinese warships.

Since coming to power, President Xi Jinping has invested heavily in the People’s Liberation Army and navy in a bid to project Chinese influence across the Pacific and beyond.

“Chinese naval visits to Australia have more typically been a lone frigate, not a task group with an amphibious assault ship and 700 personnel,” tweeted Rory Medcalf, head of the National Security College at Australian National University. “Sydney is hardly a convenient stopover on their way home from the Gulf of Aden. What’s the story here?”

“This looks like a serious show of presence in the South Pacific.” China’s aim of developing a “blue-water Navy” has been greeted warily in Canberra, which has worked to counter Beijing’s growing presence at home and in its South Pacific back yard.

During Morrison’s trip to the Solomons on Monday he announced Aus$250 million (US$173 million) in aid to retain Australian influence on the strategically important island chain.

Read more: Australia: The “Peace Keeper” in South China Sea?

What’s the Story Here?

Rory Medcalf, Professor and Head of National Security College, Australian National University, put forward an intriguing analysis of the Chinese naval visit, pointing out that “Sydney is hardly a convenient stopover”.

Medcalf tweeted, “This is actually quite something. Chinese naval visits to Australia have more typically been a lone frigate, not a task group with an amphibious assault ship and 700 personnel. Sydney is hardly a convenient stopover on their way home from the Gulf of Aden. What’s the story here?”

Professor Rory Medcalf suggested that the arrival of the Chinese navy task group is a show of power and presence in the South Pacific.

Medcalf tweeted, “It will be fascinating to learn why a Chinese navy task group, likely with PLA marines embarked, is in Sydney. Any claim they are just on their way home from the Gulf of Aden makes no sense. This looks like a serious show of presence in the South Pacific.”

Peter Jennings, an expert of the Australian Strategic Policy Institution, raised some critical questions of the Australian government’s handling of the arrival of Chinese warships.

His comments were tweeted by an ABC correspondent, “Why is it that we haven’t had any prior notice of this from our own authorities? You actually have to wait to see a Chinese ship in port to understand what’s going on”

Australian novelist and commentator, Dom Knight, observed that the arrival of Chinese warships on the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre is a “stupefyingly bad decision”.

Read more: Australia, US, India and Japan attempt to counter China’s OBOR

Knight tweeted, “Having Chinese warships in Sydney Harbor on the 30th anniversary of Tiananmen is a stupefyingly bad decision. Who made this call? The symbolism won’t be lost on China.”

AFP with additional input by GVS news desk.

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