Chinese naval vessel heading to New Zealand for under-the-radar visit

Chinese training ship Qi Jiguang is heading to New Zealand
Chinese training ship Qi Jiguang is heading to New Zealand Photo credit: Twitter/@dafengcao

A Chinese naval vessel will soon dock in New Zealand waters for a visit that's gone unannounced by the Government.

The Qi Jiguang is a training ship currently on a two-month tour of the Asia-Pacific region. The vessel has already visited Brunei, East Timor and Papua New Guinea. 

The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) confirmed the upcoming visit but provided Newshub with no other details, directing questions to the Chinese Embassy.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) also declined to answer questions, suggesting NZDF and the embassy would be better equipped with information.

The Chinese Embassy did not immediately respond to Newshub's request for comment.

The NZDF has increased its engagement with China in recent years, and it's not unusual for our Navy vessels to go on short exchanges with the Chinese military. 

New Zealand is responsible for patrolling a huge search and rescue area that stretches from Micronesia to Antarctica. Our limited naval capacity means we can't patrol the area on our own, so we partner with other nations such as China. 

Visits from international military are generally kept quiet by the Government. While there will likely be some kind of official greeting party for the vessel, it will likely remain on the down-low. 

The Qi Jiguang is carrying a crew of 517 consisting mostly of cadets, according to Chinese media. Over the course of the tour students will be trained in geography, astronomical navigation and other sailing skills. 

The state-run Xinhua News Agency reports the students will disembark at various foreign ports to visit other countries' warships, schools and training centres. It's unknown which New Zealand facilities they intend to visit, if any. 

While Xinhua says the tour is to "deepen the friendship with the people of the visiting countries and show the good image of the Chinese navy", Voices of America reports the tour is intended to tighten China's claim on the contested South China Sea and spread goodwill in a region dominated by Australian influence. 

In June three Chinese warships arrived in Sydney Harbour for an unannounced visit. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government was aware of the stopover ahead of time, and dismissed anger over the visit occurring on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.