SHANGHAI — Two French warships docked in the commercial hub of Shanghai on Saturday, which diplomats said marked the first visit to China by French naval vessels since 2013.
The "Dixmude," which serves as a helicopter carrier, and the frigate "Aconit" pulled into port at a naval base in northern Shanghai on Saturday morning, greeted by Chinese military officers waiting on the dock with flowers and a band.
The visit marks the tenth time French naval ships have come to Shanghai, the Chinese navy said in a statement.
"We want to know each other better," Captain Pierre de Briancon, commanding officer of the Dixmude, told AFP. "It's one of our strategic partners."
The Dixmude came from Singapore, and will stay in Shanghai for a week.
Both vessels are part of a larger mission, Jeanne d'Arc 2015, which is taking the group from the Indian Ocean and also the South China Sea and Sea of Japan over five months.
"We come to the Pacific because a lot of economic interests are here," de Briancon said. "It's also because maritime traffic is mostly here in the Pacific. We want to protect it."
The visit also comes amid rising tensions in the South China Sea between China and some of its Asian neighbors, including the Philippines and Vietnam, over competing territorial claims.
US officials said Friday that China has dramatically ramped up its land reclamation efforts in the South China Sea this year, building artificial islands at an unprecedented pace.