SYDNEY : Australians enjoying a sunny winter morning were shocked by the sight of a three  Chinese warships streaming into Sydney Harbour on Monday last, forcing the prime minister to reassure jittery residents.

Amid heightened concerns 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 also came as Prime Minister Scott Morrison was away on a visit to the Solomon Islands, a key player in the South Pacific that China is hoping to woo away from the recognition of Taiwan.

''It may have been a surprise to others, but it certainly wasn't a surprise to the government,'' Morrison  told  reporters in the Solomon's capital Honiara, when asked about the Chinese naval visit, because Australian naval vessels have visited China.

''We have known about that for some time,'' Morrison described the port call 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, an amphibious landing ship, the Luoma Lake, a replenishment ship, and the Xuchang, a modern frigate that is believed to be fitted with surface-to-air and anti submarine missile systems.

The arrival of the ships came just days after it was revealed that a Chinese warship had recently confronted an Australian vessel in the South China Sea and Australian helicopter pilots had been targeted with lasers.

''I think any reading into the timing could be subject to a bit of overanalysis,'' said Morrison.

''Chinese naval visits to Australia have more typically been a lone frigate, not a task group with an amphibious assault ship and 700 personnel,'' tweeted Rory Medcalf, head of the National Security College at Australian National University  [AFP]


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