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American Forces Press Service

Panetta Visits Chinese Navy Fleet, Tours Vessels

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

QINGDAO, China, Sept. 20, 2012 – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta visited the headquarters of one of China’s three naval fleets on his final stop in China today before heading to New Zealand.

Panetta, the first defense secretary to visit the People’s Liberation Army’s Navy North Sea Fleet headquarters, toured a Chinese frigate and a submarine, according to a defense official traveling with the secretary. Reporters traveling with Panetta were not permitted on the tours.

The secretary met with fleet commander Vice Adm. Tian Zhong, the official said, and the two discussed the importance each country places on its navy, the desirability of increasing engagement and exercises, and the invitation the secretary extended to China to send a ship to the multilateral maritime exercise Rim of the Pacific 2014. The vice admiral seemed pleased at the invitation, the official added.

The official noted that the North Sea Fleet, established in 1960, is based on five installations in northern China and performs a range of missions, including patrolling and protecting the seas in the area, protecting fisheries, conducting rescue missions and supporting scientific research. Fleet activities increasingly focus in international engagement, the official said.

While in Qingdao, the official said, the secretary toured the frigate Yantai, which holds a crew of 172, and recently supported Gulf of Aden counter-piracy operations. Panetta also toured the Great Wall 197 submarine, a conventionally powered sub which holds 55 crews, commissioned in 2003 with torpedo, minelayer and reconnaissance capabilities, the official added.

While the secretary toured the frigate and submarine and attended a command briefing on the fleet, Chinese navy spokesman Sr. Col. Huang Xueping spoke with the traveling press.

He explained the North Sea Fleet is one of three PLA navy fleet headquarters; the others are the East Sea and South Sea fleets.

Generally speaking, Huang said, the fleet’s primary mission is to “safeguard national sovereignty, territory and integrity. Second is to coordinate with other services … [and] third is to participate in national humanitarian [and] disaster relief [efforts].” The fleet also performs other missions as directed by the government, he added.

Asked about his reaction to the secretary’s invitation for the Chinese navy to send a ship to Rimpac 2014, Huang said, “This message is quite positive. So we will staff carefully the request, the invitation, and we will make the response.”

The People’s Liberation Army welcomes the opportunity to participate in international exercises and exchanges, he said. “We think it’s a good chance for us to participate in such kinds of activity, and learn from our colleagues,” he said.

After leaving Qingdao, the secretary flew to New Zealand for the last leg of his third Asia tour, which has also included Japan.

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