Chinese warships cause surprise in Sydney Harbor

One of three Chinese warships is seen docked at Garden Island naval base in Sydney on June 3, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 03 June 2019
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Chinese warships cause surprise in Sydney Harbor

  • Since coming to power, President Xi Jinping has invested heavily in the People’s Liberation Army Navy — in a bid to project Chinese influence across the Pacific and beyond

SYDNEY: Australians enjoying a sunny winter morning were surprised by the sight of three Chinese warships steaming into to Sydney Harbor Monday, forcing the prime minister to reassure jittery residents.
Amid heightened concern about Beijing’s growing clout and military muscle flexing, the appearance of a Chinese flagged task group and around 700 sailors came as a surprise.
“It may have been a surprise to others, but it certainly wasn’t a surprise to the government,” said Prime Minister Scott Morrison, trying to dampen concerns.
“We have known about that for some time,” he said of the visit during a trip to the Solomon Islands.
Morrison described it as a “reciprocal visit because Australian naval vessels have visited China.”
“They were returning after a counter drug trafficking operation in the Middle East.”
The vessels appeared to be the Kunlun Shan, a Yuzhao class landing ship; the Luoma Lake replenishment ship and Xuchang, a modern frigate that is believed to be fitted with surface-to-air and anti-submarine missile systems.
The timing of their visit has also been questioned.
It comes on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the violent suppression of Tiananmen protests.
Then, the regime gunned down hundreds of its own citizens and jailed thousands for demanding political change and an end to state corruption.
The sailing also comes just days after it was revealed that a Chinese warship had recently confronted an Australian vessel in the South China Sea and Aussie helicopter pilots had been targeted with lasers.
“I think any reading into timing could be subject to a bit of overanalysis,” said Morrison.
Since coming to power, President Xi Jinping has invested heavily in the People’s Liberation Army Navy — in a bid to project Chinese influence across the Pacific and beyond.
“Chinese naval visits to Australia have more typically been a lone frigate, not a task group with an amphibious assault ship and 700 personnel,” Rory Medcalf, head of the National Security College at Australian National University, tweeted.
“Sydney is hardly a convenient stopover on their way home from the Gulf of Aden. What’s the story here?“


Thai police order for intel on Muslim students sparks outrage

Updated 41 min 29 sec ago

Thai police order for intel on Muslim students sparks outrage

  • Rights groups have long accused the state of heavy-handed sweeps of the Malay-Muslim population
  • Muslims make up Thailand’s second largest religious group, with the majority residing in its three southernmost states

BANGKOK: A Thai Muslim student group Wednesday called for police to drop an order requesting universities to provide “intelligence” on Muslim students and their activities in the Buddhist-majority state.
Muslims make up Thailand’s second largest religious group, with the majority residing in its three southernmost states, which since 2004 have been in the grip of a conflict between Malay-Muslim separatist rebels and Thai authorities.
Rights groups have long accused the state of heavy-handed sweeps of the majority Malay-Muslim population in that region — which is under martial law.
Last week the Special Branch Bureau issued a nationwide order to universities to provide “intelligence” on Muslim students and their activities in school, police spokesman Krissana Pattanacharoen told AFP Tuesday, citing “security” concerns.
The news sparked immediate outrage from the community, and the Muslim Students Federation of Thailand on Wednesday called for parliament to “cancel” the request.
The Special Branch’s order “is also a form of discrimination that breaches the constitution,” president Ashraf Awae said, speaking outside parliament.
Such “groundless accusations... could create divisions among the Muslim students and others in the university and society,” he said.
He added the federation had already heard of police requesting information on Muslim student groups from at least three major universities.
Junta chief-turned-prime minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha on Tuesday defended the Special Branch, and denied creating a “database” would be a violation of people’s rights.
“We can’t arrest anyone if they don’t do anything wrong,” he told reporters.
Prayut’s backing shows an “alarming trend of growing Islamophobia in Thailand,” said Human Rights Watch’s Sunai Phasuk.
“This is state-sanctioned discrimination,” he told AFP, adding that the Thai constitution explicitly prohibits discrimination toward different religions and ethnic groups.
“It could feed into radicalization of Muslims in the deep south and worsen the conflict,” Sunai said.
The ex-general had masterminded a coup in 2014, leading a five-year junta regime before elections in March formally installed him as a civilian premier thanks to a new constitution tilted to the military.
Under Prayut’s tenure as junta head, police had rounded up at least 50 Thai Muslims, mostly university students, in a dragnet operation in October 2016 that authorities justified was necessary to stop a suspected car bomb plot.