Three Chinese naval vessels – the 18th Chinese naval escort – with 800 sailors on board are visiting for the first time ever the German port of Hamburg as part of a European-wide naval diplomacy campaign. The amphibious landing ship Chang Baishan, the frigate Yun Cheng, and the supply ship Chao Hu received a warm welcome yesterday from a delegation of over 500 Chinese currently residing in Germany, including Chinese Ambassador to Germany Shi Mingde, representatives of Germany-based Chinese and overseas Chinese students, as well as German naval officers and sailors.
This is only the second time that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has paid a visit to a German port and the first time that Chinese ships have docked in a German civilian port ever. In 2001, a Chinese squadron visited the German naval base of Wilhelmshaven. The current PLAN visit came at the initiative of the German Navy and the city of Hamburg, which jointly extended an invitation to the PLAN last year. According to the head of the German naval command Hamburg, Captain Michael Setzer, “The visit will foster mutual cultivation of friendly relations and international understanding.” Setzer also remarked half-jokingly that the German Navy would not mind having some of the capabilities of the PLAN, alluding to the size of Chinese Navy — the second biggest navy in the world. Yet the German Navy still is superior quality-wise and Setzer added that “the Chinese can still learn something” from their German counterparts.
During their five-day stay in Hamburg, the Chinese are expected to pay visits to military academies in the city, participate in various athletic competitions, and engage in an economic dialogue with the local business sector (China is the biggest trading partner of the port of Hamburg). The Chinese soldiers will also conduct exchanges with the German side on training, escort missions, and counter-piracy operations.
The 18th Chinese naval escort fleet has began its Europe visit, which so far included a visit to the United Kingdom, after wrapping up in December a four month escort mission in the Gulf of Aden and Somali waters. The post-December 2008 anti-piracy deployments are so far the only long-range operational cruises conducted by the PLAN.
Rear Admiral Zhang Chuanshu, deputy chief of staff of the PLAN’s South China Sea Fleet and commanding officer of the 18th Chinese naval escort fleet, emphasized the need for Sino-German “military cooperation.” The visit, he said, was important for deepening mutual understanding and cooperation with the German Navy.
Although not specifically addressed in any official Chinese naval strategy document, naval support for diplomacy is an increasingly important function of the PLAN.