Chinese navy docks in London for first official visit to British capital
PLA flotilla moors in Thames estuary on latest stage of tour of European ports
A People’s Liberation Army naval flotilla called on a London port on Tuesday, the first time that Chinese warships have officially visited the British capital.
The 26th Chinese naval escort task force, which includes the guided-missile frigates Huanggang and Yangzhou and the comprehensive supply ship Gaoyouhu, are moored in east London’s Docklands and will stay until Saturday.
During their five-day visit, the ships will host a series of events, including an open day for members of the British public, a deck reception and a humanitarian rescue symposium with the British navy.
The tour is the latest stage of its global voyage after completing an escort mission in the Gulf of Aden and Somali waters in August.
Liu Xiaoming, the Chinese ambassador to UK, said the visit was significant in terms of military relations between two countries.
“Our two navies will exchange views on a broad range of issues from anti-piracy to humanitarian rescues. I believe such extensive engagement will help deepen the mutual trust and cooperation between our two militaries,” Liu was quoted by state-run Xinhua as saying.
Armed with cruise missiles, the type 54A frigates Huanggang and Yangzhou can hit targets up to 50km away and are able to destroy ships and submarines with their torpedoes and rocket launchers.
The cannon at the front can fire 120 rounds per minute and they can house up to 165 crew members.
The frigates have already docked in Belgium, Holland and Denmark as part of a tour of European ports, and are due to sail to France on Saturday.
The fleet also spent five days at China’s first overseas naval base in Djibouti at the start of May.
Li Jie, a Beijing based military expert, said the visit not only reflected China’s enhanced ability to project naval power, but also signalled its ambitions to safeguard its interests overseas.
“In the past, the Chinese navy always sent big ships instead of small to medium-sized ships. But this time, the two frigates can spend a long time at sea, which shows the Chinese navy’s navigational and combat capabilities have strengthened.
“And we can also see Beijing shows more and more concern about its overseas interests from the increasing number of naval activities,” said Li, who added that Chinese navy is expected to enhance is military relationship with more countries in the future.
British Rear Admiral Alex Burton said the visit “reflects the long, strong and very common relationship that both our navies have with the sea”.
“Many of the security challenges that we face are common to both of us, are common across the globe, from counter piracy to natural disasters, peacekeeping amongst many others,” he told The Daily Telegraph.
A Royal Navy warship is expected to pay a return visit to China sometime next year while deployed in the Pacific.
In October 2001, a flotilla from the China’s East Sea Fleet visited Portsmouth on the English south coast – the first time a PLA fleet had visited a British port.
However, the Royal Navy accidentally greeted their PLA counterpart with the flag of Taiwan, the self-ruled island that Beijing believes is an inalienable part of China.