Nationalists link warship launch to opium war humiliation, hailing ‘new era’ for navy

Media and online commenters note that China’s new destroyer was launched on the 177th anniversary of conflict with British

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 June, 2017, 11:01pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 June, 2017, 11:01pm

When Beijing launched what it describes as the most advanced and biggest warship in Asia on Wednesday it set off a nationalist frenzy, with many online and in the media noting that the date ­coincided with the 177th anniversary of the start of the first opium war, which saw Hong Kong ceded to Britain.

The link was not made by officials, but the significance of the date was not lost on military ­observers, mainland media and online commenters.

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Retired rear admiral Zhang Zhaozhong, a popular television commentator on military matters, recalled China’s old Type 051 destroyer being dwarfed by a US cruiser using the Aegis system decades ago, which he said felt like “a slap in the face”. “[The launch of the new warship] is the first time the Chinese navy has felt proud and elevated in more than 100 years,” Zhang wrote on Weibo.

Others on internet forums such as Tiexue hailed the symbolism of launching the Chinese-made Type 055 guided-missile destroyer – which has a displacement of more than 12,000 tonnes – on the anniversary of China’s epic defeat by a foreign fleet.

When dozens of British gunboats arrived at the mouth of the Pearl River on June 28, 1840, the Qing dynasty had only rowboats at their disposal – versus the Royal Navy’s battleships with their powerful cannons. It was a loss that is still firmly lodged in the national psyche.

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“Dare you try and invade the Chinese people again?” read an editorial on news website ArmyStar.

On the Military Library blog, the launch was seen as a milestone: “Please don’t forget the ­humiliation on June 28,1840. Also please don’t forget June 28, 2017 – a new era for the Chinese navy.”

Meanwhile, a day after the warship was launched, President Xi Jinping landed in Hong Kong to mark the 20th anniversary of the handover. China’s first aircraft carrier is expected to make a port call in the city next week.

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Nationalist mouthpiece Global Times said in an editorial that although the country was strong enough to defend itself against foreign invaders, the push to ­develop its navy reflected a deep-seated insecurity stemming from the traumatic history. “It will take a long time to get over that,” it said.

The destroyer was built at the Jiangnan shipyard in Shanghai and is equipped with air ­defence, anti-missile, anti-ship and anti-submarine weapons, PLA Daily reported. It was an important step towards China’s dream of having a strong naval force, General Zhang Youxia, a member of the Central Military Commission, said.