13 July 2009

Chinese Navy visits Sihanoukville

PR China has been trying to maintain good relationship with Cambodia since 1990s, as the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs puts it, so to create opportunities of mutual benefit and win-win cooperation. Currently Cambodia has the giant dragon to be the leading investor.

On the occasion of 50th anniversary of Khmer-Sino diplomatic relationship in 2008, the two countries crowned the year "Cambodia-China Friendship Year". Celebration includes the Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) sending a vessel to Cambodia as their very first ship visiting the Kingdom.

"Zheng He", a PLAN training boat with 411 men on board, left Zhanjiang (formerly Kwangchouwan) of China on 2nd November 2008. It was the last stop on Chinese soil and 4 days later the vessel proudly sailed into Port of Sihanoukville.

USA has sent 4 vessels to Sihanoukville before and now China wanted to flex muscles as well.

This is a photo from Xinhua News Agent, it shows "Zheng He" arriving Sihanoukville. The visit inlcuded cocktail parties, vessel's open day, football and volleyball matches between the Cambodian & Chinese navies and delegation meetings.

The training boat then sailed for Bangkok of Thailand and Danang of Vietnam after the Sihanoukville trip ended.

The official navy cover below commemorates this three countries trip of "Zheng He". It features stamps and arrival postmarks of all three stops:
  • the Chinese "PLAN Day" stamp postmarked 25th October in Dalian (Dairen), the port where "Zheng He" originally harboured in,
  • the Cambodian "50th Anniversary of Independence" stamp postmarked 5th November in Sihanoukville,
  • the Thai "HM King Bhumibol" definitive stamp postmarked 10th November in Phra Khanong of Bangkok,
  • and the Vietnamese "BirdLife" stamp postmarked 18th November in Danang.

This cover was jointly issued by PLAN and China National Philatelic Corporation, the state owned company for producing and distributing Chinese philatelic products. Print run is 11,000, not small for its kind.

An arrival backstamp dated 30th November 2008 of Dalian is on the back, it was the day when "Zheng He" was back to its marine base.

There are stamp and postmark variations for this cover. The Sihanoukville postmark can be in blue or black ink, and at least 3 other Vietnamese stamps are used for franking. Danang's postmark can be "Da Nang 1 GD" or "Song Han".

Sihanoukville, where "Zheng He" visited in a high profile way, is the only deep water port of Cambodia. The laid-back town has been gaining her former glory as a commercial seaport and holiday destination since the civil war ended. In 1990 Cambodia issued a set of 3 stamps featuring Kampong Som, Sihanoukville that is.

Sihanoukville used the historical name "Kampong Som" in 1980s and early 1990s. The city restored her French name "Sihanoukville" after Cambodia became a monarchy again in 1993. Below is a cover from Sihanoukville to Washington DC with postmark bearing the Khmer name Kampong Som (spelt Kompong Som).

Information source:
"Training Ship of Chinese Navy Zheng He Visits Cambodia", Xinhua News, 5th November 2008.
"PLA Navy Training Ship Zheng He Visits Thailand ", PLA Daily, 11th November 2008.

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