PLA Navy fleet pays visit to Florida

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Ye Jianlin, political commissar of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Fleet 152; Chinese Ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai; US Navy Region Southeast Commander Mary Jackson; and Wang Jianxun, commander of the PLAN Fleet 152, pose for a photo with Rebecca and Myles Abram, the twin brother and sister who presented flower bouquets, during a welcoming ceremony at the US Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville, Florida, on Tuesday. The East Coast of the United States greeted its first Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) fleet for a port call visit on Tuesday morning.

Under a bright blue sky, the PLAN Escort Taskforce 152, consisting of three ships carrying some 800 Chinese officers and sailors, arrived at the US Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville.

They were welcomed by US naval officers led by Real Admiral Mary Jackson, commander of Navy Region Southeast, as well as a team of dragon dancers and others from the local Chinese community.

Cui Tiankai, the Chinese ambassador to the US, described the visit as an important project between the two militaries this year.

He called the first visit to the US East Coast by a PLAN fleet an event of great significance.

“We are very glad to see the exchanges between the two militaries being conducted in a very positive atmosphere,” Cui said.

Jackson, the commander of US Navy Region Southeast, greeted the PLAN fleet with Chinese, zaoshang hao (good morning).

“The seas are great highways connecting the people of the world,” she said. “No matter what differences exist between cultures, those who have served at sea share a common bond that can only be fully appreciated by sailors.”

Jackson said she hopes goodwill engagement strengthens that spirit of friendship and understanding.

During the five-day visit, the officers and crew of the PLAN fleet will conduct many exchange activities, including basketball, soccer and tug-of-war, mostly with the crew of the USS Iwo Jima, a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship.

They are also scheduled to hold joint exercises towards the end of the week before leaving for Cuba.

Many PLAN officers and crew also plan to visit nearby Disney World in Orlando, an alligator farm in St Augustine and do a little shopping.

The US is the eighth stop of the fleet’s global tour since it left China in early April on its anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden. Known as the 20th PLAN Escort Taskforce anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden, the fleet consists of the missile destroyer Ji’nan, missile frigate Yiyang and supply ship Qiandaohu. It is equipped with two ship-borne helicopters and has more than 800 officers and sailors including dozens of special operation troops.

Senior Captain Wang Jianxun, commanding officer of the visiting Chinese fleet and deputy chief of staff of the PLAN South China Sea Fleet, described the visit as elevating the cooperation between the two navies from across the Pacific to across the Atlantic.

Previous port calls to the US by the PLAN fleet had been on the West Coast, in California, and Hawaii.

Wang believes the visit will lay a solid foundation for a long-term relationship between the navies.

He expressed his respect for Jackson as a female navy commander and hoped the female crew serving on the visiting PLAN fleet will make Jackson their role model in order to become commanding officers with PLAN as soon as possible. His words won big applause from the audience.

Jackson and a group of US Navy officers toured the Chinese missile destroyer Ji’nan, commissioned in 2014.

For the dragon dance Tuesday morning, staged by the local Chinese community, Rebecca and Myles Abram, two 9-year-old twins, were among the youngest members of the audience.

“I am very excited to come today,” said Rebecca. The twins came with their Chinese-born mother Liu Li and American-father Corky.

“It’s extremely helpful that we have friendship between our government and Chinese government, our navy and the Chinese navy,” said Corky Abram.

“It’s great to have friends from China,” said George Smith, a dragon dancer whose wife is Chinese.

Li Bo, head of the Jacksonville Chinese Association, said the Chinese community has prepared for a month to welcome the Chinese fleet with a brand new dragon dance team.

“Chinese Americans hope for more cooperation between China and the US and hope for peaceful co-existence,” he said, adding that he is also welcoming the PLAN fleet on behalf of his hometown folks back in China.

“The visit to the East Coast is an excellent opportunity for the two militaries,” said Tywone James, an operation specialist of the US Navy in Mayport. James used to be stationed in Pearl Harbor and had engaged with visiting PLAN fleets. He said he will participate in the soccer and other recreational activities with the PLAN in the coming days.

China and the US have seen increasing military-to-military exchanges in the last few years despite tensions in the South China Sea.

Harry Harris, commander of US Pacific Command, said in Beijing on Tuesday that the US will continue to conduct freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea. China protested last week the USS Lassen’s entering of waters in the South China Sea claimed by China without permission.

Cui Tiankai, the Chinese ambassador to the US, said on Tuesday that while China and the US have some differences, it is evident that the common interests and common needs of the two countries on some global issues have been constantly increasing and expanding.

“This is the trend and direction,” he said.

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Dragon dancers perform during the ceremony. Photos by Chen Weihua

Source: PLA

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