Hong Kong bids farewell to Chinese warships as Liaoning aircraft carrier ends maiden port call
Sailors ‘impressed’ by city and hope to visit again, PLA official says
More than 700 officials and guests gathered at a naval base in Hong Kong on Tuesday morning to bid farewell to the Liaoning, China’s first operational aircraft carrier, and its accompanying warships as they ended their five-day maiden port call in the city.
Carrier group commander Rear Admiral Ding Yi thanked Hongkongers for their warm reception and wished the city continued prosperity before boarding the Yinchuan, a destroyer, at the Stonecutters Island naval base.
Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung told guests at the farewell ceremony that more than 4,000 people had boarded the carrier, which was berthed off Kau Yi Chau, while another 40,000 Hongkongers had visited the two destroyers and one frigate docked at the naval base.
“The port call made by [the Liaoning] flotilla gave Hongkongers a rare opportunity to witness the country’s first aircraft carrier, making them feel excited and very proud,” Cheung said in his speech.
The chief secretary added that for students and younger Hongkongers in particular, the visit “deepened their understanding of the country’s defence development”and “inspired their enthusiasm, national pride and a sense of identity”.
Some observers believe that the port call – which started on July 7, the anniversary of the 1937 Marco Polo Bridge incident marking the start of full-scale war between China and Japan – was intended to serve the purpose of national education, and that the opening of the carrier to the public was “soft publicity” to impress Hongkongers with China’s military might.
Southern Theatre Command deputy commander Dong Jun, PLA Hong Kong garrison commander Tan Benhong and political commissar Yue Shixin, as well as senior officials from Beijing’s liaison office and the foreign ministry’s commission in Hong Kong also attended the ceremony.
Many Hongkongers at the event said they were there with groups organised by the Fujian Association, Yuen Long Rural Committee and other organisations.
“I didn’t get a ticket to visit the Liaoning carrier and the three warships, and I’ve never visited the Stonecutter naval base before, so I am very excited to say goodbye to the flotilla here,” Rainbow Sum, a 68-year-old Hongkonger, told the Post.
Her friend Jenny Chan said she was glad to receive souvenirs distributed by organisers, including a sun cap, a reusable bag that can be used as vehicle sunshade, a Chinese national flag and a Hong Kong flag.
The three warships were guided out of Stonecutters Bay by two Hong Kong marine police vessels at about 10.30am and sailed across Victoria Harbour before leaving the city. The carrier headed south and exited via the Lamma Channel.
The flotilla is set to regroup and continue its scheduled drills in another region after leaving Hong Kong.
An official from the local garrison of the People’s Liberation Army told the South China Morning Post that sailors on board the Liaoning had been impressed by Hong Kong and expressed hopes to visit the city again.
“Destroyer and frigate sailors have had many opportunities to go to foreign countries and dock at big cities, but for those serving on the Liaoning, it is their first time travelling outside the mainland. And this time it is Hong Kong, and most of them are here for the first time,” said the official, who requested anonymity.
“They were impressed by Hong Kong, a port city which they find really modern and international. Hong Kong has plenty of marine transportation companies, which have provided high-quality logistical support for the Liaoning flotilla’s port call,” he added.
Hundreds of people lined up along the waterfront to wave goodbye and take photographs of the three warships as they sailed through Victoria Harbour at about 11.10am.
Cheng Kwok-lun, 40, arrived at the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront at about 7am, afraid that he would be late and miss the vessels.
“It’s OK, I have the patience. It’s worth it for that one shot of the warships,” he said. “I’ve always looked at these warships in magazines and newspapers, and right now this is a good chance for me to see them in person.”
Watch: China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier leaves Hong Kong
Echoing the sentiment, 70-year-old Mr Kwok said: “There are three warships passing by today, and I couldn’t get tickets to the Liaoning [earlier], that’s why I am here.”
“I think it’s nice change that the Chinese are showing us their warships. Having lived in Hong Kong for my entire life, I am numb to the daily happenings. This is a good initiative.”
For the Jones family from the United Kingdom, who touched down in Hong Kong on Monday night, the ships were an unexpected bonus after they decided to make Victoria Harbour their first stop for the day.
“We totally weren’t expecting to be able to view the warships! We heard about them in the news, but we did not make any specific plans. Today is our lucky day,” said Richard Jones, 44.
Ana Law, 38, and her 11-year old-daughter crossed the border from Shenzhen at 6.30am to catch a glimpse of the vessels.
“The warships did not even bother to make a stop at Shenzhen, and we didn’t even have the chance to view our own country’s military ships. We have never seen them before.
“We have always been interested in the history of the Liaoning, and it’s a good chance to see our country’s military prowess,” Law said.