China's 26th naval escort fleet commander Wang Zhongcai (1st L) speaks during the welcoming ceremony in London, Britain, on Oct. 3, 2017. China's 26th naval escort fleet arrived here Tuesday for a five-day friendly visit to Britain. This is the first time for Chinese naval ships to pay an official visit to the British capital city. (Xinhua/Tim Ireland)
by Jin Jing, Zhang Dailei
LONDON, Oct. 3 (Xinhua) -- Canary Wharf, a bustling financial hub in the city center by the river Thames, is looking a bit more festive than usual.
Waving national flags and cheering during a dragon dance, hundreds of Chinese from across Britain are welcoming China's 26th naval escort fleet's calling at the British capital, the first time for Chinese naval ships.
"Standing on the deck of the naval ship, I feel like standing on Chinese soil. I am really excited and proud," Xia Jingyuan, a Chinese student from Imperial College London, told Xinhua on the deck of the Yangzhou guided-missile frigate.
The naval escort fleet, composed of the guided-missile frigates Huanggang and Yangzhou, and the comprehensive supply ship Gaoyouhu, arrived here on Tuesday for a five-day friendly visit to Britain. The time also coincides with the week-long Chinese National Day holiday.
London is the third stop of the escort fleet's global trip after completing its escort mission in the Gulf of Aden and Somali waters. The Chinese navy ships have previously visited the Danish capital Copenhagen and the Belgian port of Antwerp.
The welcoming ceremony proved to be an emotional occasion for Zhang Xiangcheng, a Royal Society Industry Fellow at the University of Cambridge.
"I caught the early train at 6 a.m. from Cambridge to London this morning and this would be a moment that can be remembered by future generations," Zhang said.
In 1840, the Middle Kingdom's door was knocked open by British marines in the First Opium War, followed by ruthless invasions by foreign powers until the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949. More than 170 years later, for the first time in history, a Chinese naval escort fleet has arrived in central London for a friendly visit.
"Lagging behind leaves one vulnerable to attacks, which is the never-forgotten lesson the Chinese people have learned from history. But unlike the British in 1840, the Chinese navy comes here today for peace with a big heart and sense of responsibility that a major country like China should have," said Zhang.
China sent its first convoy fleet to the Gulf of Aden and Somali waters for an anti-piracy mission in December 2008 and has since dispatched 27 batches of escort fleets with more than 21,000 personnel to perform the mission. China and the European Union have cooperated closely in the escort mission in recent years.
During their stay, some 700 Chinese naval servicemen aboard the vessels will conduct various kinds of exchanges with their British counterparts ranging from anti-piracy to humanitarian rescues.
The vessels are also open to local visitors on Wednesday.
During the welcoming ceremony, there have been some sentimental moments. Before boarding the ships for a visit, Qi Yongqiang, president of the Northern Britain Chinese Entrepreneurs Association, presented some old pictures of Chinese warships to the fleet commander Wang Zhongcai as a gift.
The four warships in the framed pictures, namely Chaoyong, Yangwei, Zhiyuan and Jingyuan, were built by a ship manufacturer in Newcastle in the Qing Dynasty during the 1880s as part of the Beiyang Fleet, the earliest naval force of China. Most of the ships were sunk by the Japanese navy during the First Sino-Japanese War in 1894, another reminder of how far China has come since the end of suffering and humiliation caused by foreign invaders.
"More than a century later, the arrival of designed-in-China Chinese navy ships in London presents such a historic moment. We as overseas Chinese are really touched and proud," said Qi.