For four days, a Chinese frigate, supply ship, and amphibious warfare vessel were docked at the Garden Island Navy Base, 5 kilometers (3 miles) east of downtown Sydney.
A photo that News Limited took of the soldiers reveals they were loading what seemed to be dozens of cartons filled with A2 platinum and Aptamil baby formula aboard the vessels.
Chinese ships on baby milk raid https://t.co/zTCiZURS7Q
— The Australian (@australian) June 7, 2019
The unannounced visit coincided with the 30th anniversary of the regime’s Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4 and sparked widespread media speculation that the Chinese communist regime was sending a political message about its naval capabilities and presence in the South Pacific.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison explained shortly after the arrival of the Chinese Navy taskforce that China had requested the stop over after finishing anti-piracy operations in East Africa’s Gulf of Aden.
He described the visit as a reciprocal visit after Australian naval vessels had visited China.
“It may have been a surprise to others but it certainly wasn’t a surprise to the government,” Morrison told the Australian Associated Press.
However, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian admitted she did not know exactly why the warships, which carried a total of about 700 sailors, were visiting Sydney.
This was most concerning for Labor opposition leader Anthony Albanese.
“The fact that the NSW government of Gladys Berejiklian apparently weren’t informed, I think requires some further explanation of just why it that didn’t happen,” he told AAP.
Former Coalition Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce called the Chinese regime a “benevolent tyranny,” saying that Australia has to make sure it is treated as an equal trading partner.
“They are not a democracy—they’re basically a benevolent tyranny,” he told AAP. “Australia has to obviously recognise the economic strength and trade with them but we want to trade with them as a partner, not as a servant.”
Joyce said Australia has to consider how it plays a role in maintaining maritime peace in the region.
“We have to not be scared, not react, but clearly have a wide-eyed view of exactly where the world is going, and how we’re going to play our part inside it,” he said.
The visit also raised suspicions at the Australian National University’s National Security College (ANU NSC), which described it as “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,” Rory Medcalf, head of ANU NSC, said on Twitter. “Sydney is hardly a convenient stopover on their way home from the Gulf of Aden. What’s the story here?”
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
Liberal Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells criticised Morrison’s “cabinet of groupthinkers” for deciding to appease the Chinese regime.
“They were totally outmanoeuvred by Beijing,” Fierravanti-Wells told AAP.
She also said that Australia should not be afraid to confront the Chinese regime when it has “failed to demonstrate the credentials of a good international citizen.”
“Many Chinese-Australians continue to take a courageous stand against the regime,” she said. “I am sure the timing of the … naval visit would not sit well with many of them.”
News Limited joked that the Chinese Navy might have simply sailed 11,700 kilometres (7,270 miles) for a shopping trip to replenish baby formula supplies.
The Australian-made infant food continues to be in high demand across China since the 2008 milk scandal revealed that milk, infant formula, and other dairy products in China were adulterated with melamine.
The scandal is blamed for killing six people and causing hundreds of thousands to be ill. It also led to a buying frenzy for baby formula across Australia where syndicated groups called “daigou” have been profiteering from buying tins and reselling them for up to six times more than retail price.
Research agency Nielsen estimated there were between 100,000 and 200,000 active “daigou” across Australia in 2017.
The high demand has caused baby formula supply shortages at many Australian supermarkets and pharmacies, which have responded by imposing two-can per customer limits to deter bulk buyers from clearing shelves and leave enough stock for local families.