Australian PM plays down ‘surprising’ visit by Chinese warships

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison reassured locals regarding a “reciprocal visit” by the Chinese Navy after Australians wee stunned to see three Chinese warships appear in Sydney.

Some locals were baffled on Monday when they discovered three Chinese warships entering the harbor of Sydney, Australia’s largest city. The vessels then docked at the Garden Island, just off the city’s main commercial center, where they are expected to stay for four days.

Media outlets identified the ships as a brand-new Xuchang frigate, a landing ship, and an auxiliary vessel. Around 700 servicemen are believed to be aboard the ships, including marines.

The visit came as a complete surprise to observers since the government did not warn the public the Chinese would be coming over. Some news outlets struck an alarmist tone, calling the foreign military presence “surprising” and a “dramatic display” of Beijing’s naval power.

To some, the situation seemed ominous amid US-Chinese tensions in the region. The nations’ defense chiefs just recently clashed in Singapore, accusing each other of provocative behavior in the Asia-Pacific. The Australian press also pointed out that the Chinese warships arrived just one day before the 30th anniversary of China’s suppression of protests on Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

Prime Minister Morrison, who was on a trip to the Solomon Islands, attempted to calm everyone down, saying the presence of the Chinese ships is nothing unusual. He explained that the vessels were returning home from tracking drug traffickers and pirates in the Gulf of Aden, and officials knew beforehand that they would be stopping by in Sydney.

That is a further demonstration of the relationship that we have and this had been in train for some time. It may have been a surprise to others but it certainly wasn’t a surprise to the government.

Morrison said the visits are “reciprocal,” and ships of the Australian Navy sometimes dock at Chinese ports as well. As for the timing, reading anything into it “could be subject to a bit of overanalysis.”

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