Chile flies the flag into Chinese shores

Soft power diplomacy with China isn’t all state dinners and hugging pandas. Chile brings its naval training ship to Shanghai.

Photo credit: Mario Artaza


While some may fear conflict in the South China Sea, visits by Chile’s “Esmeralda” prove active foreign military exchanges add value in relations with China whilst contributing to peace and stability in the Pacific.

Fortunately, it’s a charm offensive and contributes by building bridges, not destroying them.

Old China hands

The presence of Chilean ships in the western Pacific Ocean can be traced back to the early 1800’s when entrepreneurs from Valparaiso set up the Calcutta Company with the frigate “Carmen” sailing laden with Chilean goods destined to ports in the region. By 1845, Chile had set up the first consular and commercial office of a Latin American country in Canton and in 1900, the Chilean Navy corvette “General Baquedano” visited Hong Kong after the first 19,337 miles of its maiden training voyage which included Honolulu, Yokohama and Shanghai amongst other previous ports of call.

Chile’s commitment to the Pacific is not only verifiable through the network of Free Trade Agreements it has been able to negotiate and put into force with partners in the region, including China and Hong Kong, the most by any Latin American country today, but furthermore by the engagement of its navy through its “White Lady”, the steel hulled four masted barquentine tall ship “Esmeralda”. Since 1954, this ship which was built in Cadiz, Spain, has called at more than 300 ports and is recognized by her outstanding participation as a training ship and a floating embassy.

These past few days Chile’s “Esmeralda”, commanded by Captain Carlos Schnaidt Mecklenburg and with a crew of more than 300 men and women, including officers from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, South Africa, South Korea, Uruguay and the United States, visited Shanghai, a port the ship first visited in 1972. Since then it has become the training ship of a foreign navy which has made the most ports of call in China, including Hong Kong which was first visited in 1966 and with Chile’s current Naval Commander in Chief, Admiral Enrique Larrañaga Martin as the ship’s Captain when it last came to the territory in 2002.

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Chile’s former Consul General and currently Chilean Bank Banco Security (智定銀行) Chief Representative, Mario Ignacio Artaza, joined the crew of the “Esmeralda” in Pusan, South Korea, in order to fulfill his military obligations as a Chilean Navy Reserve officer. On board the Chilean tall ship during its voyage to Shanghai he to be was more on board a vessel which has its men and women as its most important asset, representing the best spirit of this Latin American country in various activities. As such, one of Sub lieutenant Artaza tasks was to contribute to the crew’s overall knowledge of China as well as their understanding of China’s overall role in the development of the current economic and political architecture in the region, with Chile as a nation of the Pacific, as part of this equation.

Talks have been ongoing for some time for the “Esmeralda” to include a visit Hong Kong during one of its next voyages in the Pacific, with the Hong Kong Maritime Museum, which at this time has in display a model replica of the Chilean Navy corvette “General Baquedano”, taking a proactive role in the process. It is in St. Michael´s Cemetery in Happy Valley where the mortal remains of Chilean Midshipman Carlos Krug Boonen have lain at rest since November 1900. He is not forgotten and the local Chilean community annually organizes a wreath laying ceremony at his tomb.

the author

Alex Fok is a Harbour Times journalist monitoring Hong Kong's daily political scene and diplomatic updates. He obtained his bachelor's degree in Economics, Politics and International Studies from University of Warwick and his master's degree in International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is a former committee member of the Warwick-based Hong Kong Public Affairs and Social Service Society (WHKPASS) and was the chief editor of the society's magazine - PASSTIMES.