Chinese warships in Sydney Harbour in stunning military display
Three Chinese warships with 700 sailors on board will spend the next four days docked in Sydney Harbour on an unannounced visit.
The ‘secret visit’ comes just days after it was revealed that a Chinese warship had confronted an Australian vessel in the South China Sea, with Australian helicopter pilots targeted with lasers.
Footage emerged of the warships’ arrival into Sydney on Monday morning with sailors lined up on the ships in combat uniform, with some carrying guns.
The appearance of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLA- N) frigate, an auxiliary replenishment ship, and an amphibious vessel docked at Garden Island, comes amid heightened concern about Beijing’s growing clout and military muscle flexing.
Since coming to power, President Xi Jinping has invested heavily in the People’s Liberation Army Navy – in a bid to project Chinese influence across the Pacific and beyond.
Tensions have been high in the South China Sea, a major global shipping thoroughfare and a major source of untapped oil and gas reserves, which China claims almost all of.
It has in the past hit out at the US and its allies over naval operations in the area and has been turning reefs and islets into islands, installing military facilities on them.
Three Chinese warships arrived at Sydney’s Garden Island on Monday for a four day stopover just days after it was revealed China had confronted an Australian vessel in the South China Sea
More than 700 Chinese navy sailors, including some armed with guns, are in Sydney for what Prime Minister Scott Morrison has described as a reciprocal visit
The ship arrived on a ‘secret visit’, amid heightened concern about Beijing’s growing clout and military muscle flexing
Chinese Navy personnel stand onboard a Chinese Naval ship after it arrives at Garden Island Naval Base in Sydney, Australia
A Department of Defence spokeswoman later said that the port visit was one of many port visits to Australia by foreign military vessels
An Australian Department of Defence spokeswoman said: ‘Defence received the request to visit Sydney in April, and planning to accommodate the Task Force commenced shortly thereafter’
The ships have since docked at the Royal Australian Navy base in Potts Point in a visit that was recently approved by the federal government.
Curious members of the public later boarded the vessels for a closer inspection.
A Department of Defence spokeswoman told Daily Mail Australia the routine port visit was one of many port visits to Australia by foreign military vessels facilitated each year.
‘This PLA-N visit is part of an extended deployment for the PLA-N Task Force which recently completed anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden,’ the spokeswoman said.
‘Defence received the request to visit Sydney in April, and planning to accommodate the Task Force commenced shortly thereafter. The dates of this port visit were requested by China to support the PLA-N Task Group’s broader deployment.’
The PLA-N Task Force is comprised of the frigate Xuchang, the auxiliary replenishment ship Luoma Hu and the landing platform dock Kunlun Shan
A view of the Kunlun Shan (998) Yuzhao-class amphibious transport dock (left) and Luoma Lake (964) Fuchi II class fleet replenishment ship (right) of the People’s Liberation Army Navy
There was a heavy Chinese Navy presence on the ship and, since coming to power, President Xi Jinping has invested heavily in the People’s Liberation Army Navy
Australian and Chinese Navy personnel speak on the wharf after three Chinese Naval ships arrived at Garden Island Naval Base in Sydney
Members of the public had the opportunity to the Chinese naval ship after it docked in Sydney on Monday morning
The visiting ships include a People’s Liberation Army frigate, an auxiliary replenishment ship, and an amphibious vessel
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison dismissed suggestions the timing was contentious following reports of an Australian vessel being confronted by the Chinese navy
The PLA-N Task Force is comprised of the frigate Xuchang, the auxiliary replenishment ship Luoma Hu and the landing platform dock Kunlun Shan.
Around 730 PLA-N officers and sailors are embarked on the three ships.
‘Port visits are conducted by all navies to undertake basic logistics and resupply activities, low level maintenance and provide valuable opportunities for crew respite,’ the spokeswoman added.
‘HMAS Melbourne is the most recent Royal Australian Navy warship to visit China, visiting Qingdao in late April 2019 for the PLA-N’s International Fleet Review.
‘The Australian Government is committed to maintaining a long-term constructive relationship with China, founded on shared interests and mutual respect.’
Chinese Navy personnel wave while onboard a Chinese Naval ship, with curious members of the public later boarding to see the vessels
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government has known about the visit from the Chinese naval ships for a while
Speaking to reporters in the Solomon Islands on his first post-election trip to the Pacific, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the stopover had been in place for ‘some time’.
He said it was a reciprocal visit after Australian naval vessels recently visited China, including HMAS Melbourne when it recently took part in 70th anniversary celebrations for the PLA Navy.
‘It may have been a surprise to others but it certainly wasn’t a surprise to the government,’ Mr Morrison told reporters.
‘[The Chinese vessels] were returning from counter-drug trafficking operations in the Middle East and that is a further demonstration of the relationship we have.’
‘I think any reading into timing could be subject to a bit of over-analysis.’
The visit from Chinese sailors to Sydney comes after Australian naval vessels recently visited China
Mr Morrison dismissed suggestions the timing is contentious, which comes on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre.
It’s the first time People’s Liberation Army ships have visited Sydney since 2017.
There was a mixed reaction from the public on social media to the incredible strength of military power on display on Sydney Harbour.
Sydneysiders have reacted with surprise to seeing the visiting Chinese warships at Garden Island on Monday morning
The Chinese sailors are on a four day stopover after returning from counter-drug trafficking operations in the Middle East
This week is the People’s Liberation Army’s first visit to Sydney since 2017
But others have questioned Mr Morrison as to why the visit wasn’t publicly announced earlier.
‘As you have pledged $250 million to the Solomon Islands to curb China’s influence, could you likewise let the Australian public know the cost to the taxpayer to host these Chinese warships at for four days? And equally importantly, why are they here?,’ one man tweeted.
Australian National University’s National Security College head, Professor Rory Medcalf also questioned the visit.
‘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,’ he tweeted.
Member of the public and experts have taken to social media to question the unannounced visit by Chinese naval sailors
An armed flag from China’s People’s Liberation Army is spotted on board with Sydney’s Centrepoint Tower in the background
The visit comes a week after the ABC revealed Chinese military ships had recently tailed the Australian Navy’s HMAS Canberra in a recent transit of the South China Sea.
HMAS Canberra helicopter pilots were also also lit up by lasers from Chinese fishing vessels over the South China Sea.
The Department of Defence confirmed it had a ‘professional’ and ‘friendly’ interaction with the People’s Liberation Army during Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2019, an Australian Defence Force regional engagement mission.
Mr Morrison warned against defining Australia’s relationships in the Pacific as tensions grow between US and China.
‘We have got to be careful not to see what are ongoing and upgrading relationships here for Australia and the Pacific through those binary terms of the United States and China,’ Mr Morrison told reporters.
Footage has emerged of the naval ships’ grand entrance into Sydney Harbour before docking on Garden Island
The surprise visit from the Chinese naval ships attracted a lot on attention from Sydneysiders and tourists on Monday
Australia’s recent tensions with China
Australia normalised relations with Communist China in 1972 but the diplomatic ties have been tense.
Since 2009, China has been Australia’s biggest two-way trading partner, as the United States has remained Australia’s biggest defence ally.
The Asian superpower is a major buyer of Australian commodities, and spent $50billion on iron ore and another $13billion on coal during the 2017-18 financial year.
It also spends $10billion a year sending international students to Australia.
Both sides of politics in Australia are distrustful of China’s territorial ambitions and possible espionage activity.
In 2012, Julia Gillard’s Labor government banned Chinese telecommuncations equipment company Huawei from installing the national broadband network over cyber attack concerns.
In August 2018, days before he resigned as Liberal prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull’s government banned Huawei from installing the next-generation 5G mobile network, also on national security grounds.
This reportedly displeased the Chinese government.
Earlier this year, Australian coal was banned from entering the Dalian ports in northern China, causing the Australian dollar to slide.
The South China Sea – bordered by Brunei, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam – is another diplomatic flashpoint.
It’s a major global shipping thoroughfare and a major source of untapped oil and gas reserves.
China has also escalated regional tensions by building a series of military bases in the disputed maritime area.
It has overlapping territorial claims to the South China Sea with The Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam.
The United States has been critical of China aggressively claiming the South China Sea as its own territory while Australia broadly shares that view and wants China to abide by global rules on allowing shipping movements.
China disapproves of Australia doing its own surveillance of the South China Sea, which it has done since 1980, using P-3 maritime aircraft as part of Operation Gateway.
As a liberal democracy, Australia is a critic of China’s human rights record.
The late Labor prime minister Bob Hawke, 30 years ago this month, allowed Chinese students to stay in Australia following the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijiing of pro-democracy student demonstrators.
This led to an influx of immigrants from mainland China. When it comes to those born overseas, Australia’s Chinese-born population is second only to England.
Since the late former prime minister Gough Whitlam’s new Labor government recognised China in December 1972, Australia has regarded Taiwan as being part of China.
Australia’s Pacific neighbours don’t share the same view with the Solomon Islands recognising Taiwan.
This small nation has been the recipient of Chinese infrastructure loans in a bid to change its position on Taiwan at the United Nations.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is visiting the Solomon Islands this week, the first by an Australian PM since Kevin Rudd in 2008.
Sources: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Lowy Institute