Three Chinese warships are seen docked at Garden Island naval base in Sydney, Austalia, June 3, 2019.
Three Chinese warships are seen docked at Garden Island naval base in Sydney, Austalia, June 3, 2019.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - Analysts have questioned the secrecy surrounding the arrival of three Chinese warships into Sydney Harbor.  About 700 personnel are onboard the vessels, which are now docked at an Australian naval base for a four-day stopover.

Commuters and tourists were greeted Monday by the sight of three Chinese warships with about 730 officers and crew sailing into Sydney’s famous harbor.

An army frigate, an auxiliary replenishment ship and an amphibious vessel from the People’s Liberation Army will be stationed at the Australian naval base at Garden Island for a four-day stopover.

The visit was not announced by Australian authorities in advance.

Analysts say the visit - the biggest Chinese military task force to sail into an Australian port in years - is a symbol of Beijing’s growing naval strength in the Indian and Pacific oceans.

Canberra says it is a reciprocal visit, but defense experts believe the lack of information about the warships shows that Australia is wary of making public comments about the Chinese military.

Peter Jennings is from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, an independent think-tank.  

“To me it just points to a  fact that our government and our defense establishment do not know how to talk about China, they are scared about making comments in public and I think they need to get their act together and work out how they can talk about China in a way that they can explain their business to the average Australian,” he said.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has downplayed the timing of the visit, with the Chinese warships arriving the day before the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

The three Chinese vessels have recently completed anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden.

Morrison said the stop-over in Sydney was a long-term arrangement.

“They were returning from counter drug trafficking operations in the Middle East and that is a further demonstration of the relationship that we have and this had been in train for some time,” he said.

Australia has noted that territorial disputes between China and its regional neighbors in the South China Sea have “entered a dangerous new phase” in recent years.

Experts have said that as the United States’ closest ally in the region, Australia may come under pressure from Washington to make its “presence felt in the South China Sea beyond statements of diplomatic support for freedom of navigation”.