ABOARD THE CNS HAIKOU -
Nobody knew what to expect.
Would the Chinese destroyer officer confiscate out materials? Would they really take us on a tour of their ship – the DDG 171 CNS Haikou – and answer our questions? Would they let us take pictures? What would they be like? What would the ship be like? Would we really find out?
This was all brand new – the first time a Chinese warship would be participating in the Rim of the Pacific (Rimpac) exercise, and thus the first time U.S. reporters would be aboard Luyang II or Lanzhou-class destroyer during a military exercise like this.
But how would the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) personnel treat U.S. reporters? What would they tell them?
“We’ll have to play it by ear,” the U.S. Navy public affairs officers said.
We found out as we piled out of the helicopter that flew us from the cruiser USS Port Royal to the Haikou in the rolling Pacific. There, a line of Chinese officers and seamen – wearing blue-tinged camouflage uniforms not all that different from those worn on U.S. Navy ships – waited by the hangar.
They stared at us. We stared back at them. We were all armed – with cameras.
“Can I take pictures?” I asked.
“Of course,” the ship’s communications officer, and my guide for the duration, told me.
The shooting began – on both sides. We took pictures of the officers, crew and ship. The Chinese took pictures of us.
Talk about transparency.
After a real Chinese meal, the tour began. It ranged about the ship. Some places, such as the mast, were off limits for pictures. But otherwise, it was open season. Stay tuned for more material from the tour and interviews, including an exclusive and rather frank sit down with Senior Capt. Zhao Xiaogang, who is charge of the task force of ships participating in Rimpac.
Suffice to say the Haikou can hold its own as a top-notch international destroyer. Rimpac is a bit of coming out for the Chinese and they are turning some heads and flaunting more than anyone would have expected.