IT IS a rare sight to behold – an Australian warship sailing gracefully through Shanghai's historic Bund with a Chinese flag fluttering proudly on its mast.
Yet it is one the Australian government hopes to see more of as it seeks to prove that it can establish closer military and strategic co-operation with China, despite its historical alliance with the United States.
The HMAS Ballarat, one of eight ANZAC-class guided missile frigates currently in commission, arrived yesterday and will embark on a series of low-level military exercises with the Chinese Navy to coincide with the 40th anniversary of diplomatic ties with China.
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The HMAS Ballarat arriving in Shanghai's historic Bund. Photo: Sanghee Liu
It is also a public show of the military co-operation between the two nations that Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr has been at pains to emphasise during his visit. But at a range of high-level meetings this week tensions have been simmering over Australia's decision to allow 2500 US marines to be deployed through Darwin.
Chinese officials criticised Australia's intimate military relationship with the United States as a throwback to a "Cold War alliance", while defence analysts, both Australian and Chinese, have warned Australia risked alienating China by pursuing even closer military ties with the United States.
Yesterday, the People's Liberation Army Navy's deputy chief of staff, Captain Li Jun, welcomed the Ballarat's Commander Jonathan Earley and his 182-strong crew.
Captain Li remarked it was the 9th visit by an Australian navy ship to Shanghai. "Meeting you is like meeting an old friend," he said, before a banner marking the 40th anniversary was unfurled, and 40 Chinese officers were given a tour of the ship.
Commander Earley said the military exercises in Shanghai – expected to include search and rescue, communication and manoeuvring missions – would help both sides better understand how they operate and help set the foundation for further co-operation.
"Today's politics is confusing," Commander Earley told reporters. "There's a number of contentious issues around the world at the moment but certainly the idea is to alleviate some of that by coming out here and working together. We both have an interest to maintain a secure and stable maritime environment for both of our prosperities."