Three Chinese warships dock in Sydney Harbour — but were they even invited?

People’s Liberation Army Navy Type: 054A Frigate 538 Yantai (Getty Images)
  • Three warships and as many as 700 sailors belonging to China’s People’s Liberation Army are currently docked at Garden Island in Sydney Harbour.
  • ABC News is reporting that the visit is a “surprise” but Prime Minister Scott Morrison reportedly said the government was aware of the exercise.
  • The visit comes just one day before the 30th anniversary of the 1989 Beijing Tiananmen Square atrocity.

The Chinese military has begun a four-day slumber party in Sydney Harbour to which it may or may not have been invited.

A People’s Liberation Army frigate, an auxiliary replenishment ship and an amphibious vessel docked at Garden Island on Monday, ABC News has reported.

The public broadcaster’s defence correspondent tweeted that the visit was a “surprise” and that it follows reports of Chinese vessels tailing Australian Navy ships in the South China Sea.

An ABC News tweet and article also indicated that the warships had made a “surprise entrance”.

However, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told the travelling media on his visit to the Solomon Islands on Monday that the government did have prior knowledge of the event.

“We have known about that for some time. This was an arrangement, a reciprocal visit because Australian naval vessels have visited China,” Morrison said, according to The Australian.

A Department of Defence spokesperson confirmed to Business Insider Australia that the docking of the vessels is just a “routine port visit”.

“This is one of many port visits to Australia by foreign military vessels that Defence facilitates each year,” the spokesperson said. “This…visit is part of an extended deployment for the task force which recently completed anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden. 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.”

The spokesperson said that a Royal Australian Navy ship visited Qingdao in China in April 2019.

“The Australian Government is committed to maintaining a long-term constructive relationship with China, founded on shared interests and mutual respect,” the spokesperson added.

But Australian National University professor and security expert Rory Medcalf is unconvinced by the government efforts to reassure that the event was planned.

“It will be fascinating to learn why a Chinese navy task group, likely with PLA marines embarked, is in Sydney,” Medcalf tweeted.

“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…Sydney is hardly a convenient stopover on their way home from the Gulf of Aden. What’s the story here?”

UPDATED 5:19pm 3/6/2019: This article was updated to include comments from the Department of Defence spokesperson.

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