Chinese warships collect baby formula in Australia

Chinese warships that docked unexpectedly at an Australian port departed with a cargo of baby formula, local media discovered.

The arrival of a trio of Chinese ships, including an amphibious assault vessel, set off alarm bells on Monday morning among Australian citizens who did not have advance notice of the visit and analysts who regarded it as a show of force. But the trip also highlighted China’s vulnerabilities, as Chinese sailors were photographed loading baby formula onto the ships before they departed.

“What some Chinese colleagues were saying about ‘realistic socialism’ as true state of affairs in their country, and best epitomized here: advanced warships that project the State’s might while sailors cope with tainted food products back home,” Collin Koh, a research fellow at the Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies in Singapore, commented in a Friday night tweet.

China was rocked by a scandal involving tainted baby formula in 2008, when testing showed that a toxic chemical was being used in milk powder that resulted in the death of six children and illness for 300,000 more, including more than 50,000 babies who required hospitalization.

“On Thursday, on the eve of the ships’ departure for China, People’s Liberation Army personnel were seen loading dozens of boxes full of A2 platinum and Aptamil formula on board,” the Weekend Australian, which photographed the sailors, explained. “Baby formula made in Australia, the US and Europe has been highly sought in China for the past decade.”

The arrival of the three ships stirred a controversy in Australia, in part because Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government did not warn local officials to expect the warships. Their trip was billed as a routine visit while returning from the Middle East.

“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, the head of Australian National University’s National Security College, said this week. “Sydney is hardly a convenient stopover on their way home from the Gulf of Aden.”

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