A People’s Liberation Army frigate, an auxiliary replenishment ship, and an amphibious vessel docked at a naval base in Sydney Harbour, Australia, on June 3 for a four-day stopover.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) ships with approximately 730 sailors onboard docked in Garden Island, which lies below HMAS Kuttabul in Potts Point.
It is the first visit by the PLA since a similar visit in 2017, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the government knew that three Chinese navy ships were due to arrive in Sydney Harbour on Monday, despite the government not publicly announcing the visit.
“We have known about that (visit) for some time,” he told reporters in the Solomon Island’s capital of Honiara on Monday.
Morrison said it was a reciprocal visit after Australian naval vessels visited China.
“This was an arrangement, a reciprocal visit because Australian naval vessels have visited China,” Morrison said.
“They were returning after a counter drug trafficking operation in the Middle East.
“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 dismissed suggestions that the timing was contentious given the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre was on June 4, saying such observations “could be subject to a bit of overanalysis.”
Peter Jennings, executive director at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and a former Defence Department deputy secretary, told ABC Radio that while the port visit was part of routine interactions between militaries, the Australian government has a record of not being upfront with the public on the topic of China. Jennings said it would be preferable for the government to openly inform the Australian public on its actions regarding China.
Rory Medcalf, a National security expert at the Australian National University, said on Twitter that such visits had “more typically been a lone frigate, not a task group with an amphibious assault ship and 700 personnel” and noted that Sydney was “hardly a convenient stopover on their way home from the Gulf of Aden.”
“This looks like a serious show of presence in the South Pacific,” he 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 https://t.co/nbdqiTZmLP
— Rory Medcalf (@Rory_Medcalf) June 3, 2019
With reporting by AAP’s Rebecca Gredley.