OK, so we'll skip a day or so (otherwise there won't be anything left for you to read about in the next issue of DTI) and move onto the day we visited the Shanghai naval base, a first ever by journalists of any nationality apparently.
China's navy was founded on April 23, 1949 so is relatively young, we were told by Senior Captain Hu Wei Hua. It now has a submarine force, surface warships, marine commandos, and a force which keeps watch on China's ports (not really a coast guard as such). And, of course, the aircraft carrier about which much was spoken but nothing was said.
“We are an important country, a permanent member of the UN Security Council and so we have a role to play,” Hu said when asked what the aircraft carrier was for. Following a soto vocce exchange with Colonel Dong (remember Col. Dong? He was our minder), he added that of course it would also be used for humanitarian aid missions and taking part in missions against the most current threat: pirates. “We are not developing anything against anyone in particular,” he stressed but “we are short of natural resources and so our navy will serve to protect shipping lanes.”
There are three fleets: the northern seaboard one is based in Chingao, the eastern seaboard one in Ningbo and the southern seaboard one in Zhangyiang.
The Shanghai naval base is responsible for fleet maintenance of conventional ships – the nuclear powered ones are maintained elsewhere - and for supplying logistical support. Like all the other military bases we visited, this one is vast, with plenty of space, huge buildings and 2,581 staff of which 2,567 are military.
The ship we visited was a missile-launching frigate, the Anqing which entered service in December 1991. It was so clean and spick-and-span that we could have eaten off the floor. The brass had been polished to within an inch of its life. We were told it spent 180 days at sea but Western military observers who've also seen the ship say that, given its extremely good state, that is impossible. “This ship is a showcase,” they told me.
One thing I found amusing was that in the mission control center the leather and steel chairs were not attached to the floor and looked for all the world like normal office chairs which had rarely, if ever, been sat in!
Here are some photos of what we saw.
The Guard of Honor.
Can any one tell me what is amongst this forest of antennae?
Here are some of the weapon systems:
And finally, the submarine... which we were not shown but I saw from this angle.
and later from this one:
Well, that's it from China. Next year they've promised to take us to Tibet...