Three Chinese warships have sailed into Sydney Harbor for a stopover just four days after Australian navy helicopter pilots flying off the flagship HMAS Canberra were hit by lasers while transiting the South China Sea.
A People’s Liberation Army supply vessel, a frigate and an amphibious vessel docked at the Garden Island naval base on Monday morning.
They came alongside Fleet Base East just 24-hours before the 30th anniversary of the bloody Tiananmen Square massacre when Chinese Communist People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops killed, maimed, or incarcerated several thousand of their own unarmed countrymen and women.
The visit came much to the surprise of locals but not Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
He said plans for the stopover had been in place for “some time.”
“It may have been a surprise to others but it certainly wasn’t a surprise to the government,” Morrison told reporters in the Solomon Islands, according to SBS News.
“Australian naval vessels have visited China. This was a program of a reciprocal visit. That is a further demonstration of the relationship that we have.”
AFP reports 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 after reportedly finishing a counter drug trafficking operation in the Middle East.
Just why Sydney, Australia’s biggest city, was chosen for this symbolic visit has not been explained.
“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.”
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?
— Rory Medcalf (@Rory_Medcalf) June 3, 2019
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 warships have sailed in Sydney Harbor before, including in 2013 and in 2010.