Asia Pacific

China to show off new nuclear subs, destroyers for first time at fleet review marking navy's 70th anniversary

by Jesse Johnson

Staff Writer

China will show off some of its new warships — including nuclear submarines and destroyers — for the first time during a massive maritime parade marking the 70th anniversary of the Chinese Navy on Tuesday.

A total of 32 Chinese vessels and 39 aircraft will take part in the parade near the eastern port city of Qingdao, the state-run Global Times quoted Vice Adm. Qiu Yanpeng, deputy commander of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, as saying at a news conference Saturday.

“The PLA Navy ship and aircraft to be revealed are the Liaoning aircraft carrier, new types of nuclear submarines, new types of destroyers, as well as fighter aircraft,” Qiu said without elaborating. “Some vessels will make their public debut.”

The fleet review is the latest example of military muscle-flexing by China, which has made building up its navy a top priority as it seeks to punch further into the Western Pacific and bolster its presence in the South and East China seas and near Taiwan.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has overseen a massive military buildup, is expected to preside over the fleet review, which comes on the heels of a similar maritime parade last year in the disputed South China Sea that featured a total of 48 vessels and 76 planes, including the Liaoning, China’s first aircraft carrier, as well as nuclear submarines, guided-missile destroyers and fighter jets.

It was not immediately clear if the country’s second carrier — its first domestically constructed — would also take part, though state media has played up stories about recent sea trials.

The Global Times, citing an unidentified expert, said the new nuclear-powered submarine could be the Type 095 attack submarine, a new model of the Type 094 ballistic missile submarine or a new model of the Type 093 attack submarine. The expert said the new destroyer was “very likely” China’s first 10,000 ton-class destroyer, the Type 055.

Qiu said more than 10 countries, including Japan, will take part in the fleet review. China has said the parade would also include ships from Russia, Singapore, India, Thailand and Vietnam — which has sparred with Beijing over their claims in the South China Sea.

Defense Minister Takeshi Iwakya said last month that the Maritime Self-Defense Force would send a destroyer to visit from April 21 to 26, the first visit to the country by an MSDF vessel in seven years — amid thawing Sino-Japanese ties.

While Qiu has also said that while more than 60 countries will send naval delegations, with more than 30 of them featuring major naval leaders, the U.S. is not sending any vessels or top officials. Instead, the Pentagon has said the U.S. Embassy’s defense attache office in Beijing will represent the United States at the events to be held between Monday and Thursday.

The Chinese Navy, which has faced growing international scrutiny over its moves in contested waters and elsewhere in recent years, is using this year’s anniversary to reach out to its counterparts across the globe to present a friendlier image.

On Saturday, Qiu reiterated Beijing’s stance that its armed forces are not a threat to anyone and that it will never “pursue hegemony.” Still, he said, China’s past history of invasions pointed to its need for a strong defense at sea.

“A strong navy is essential for building a strong maritime country,” Qiu said.

But the U.S. snub, apparently made out of concerns that China could have used the presence of American warships to bolster its international standing, could put something of a damper on any propaganda victory by Beijing.

The U.S. decision comes amid a ramped-up pace of so-called freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) by American warships and aircraft in and over the disputed South China Sea.

It also comes less than a year after the Pentagon announced last May that it was disinviting the Chinese Navy from taking part in Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) drills — the world’s largest naval exercise. That announcement specifically pointed to China’s militarization of islands in the South China Sea as a reason for the cancelation. A month earlier, China deployed the first advanced anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles to some of its fortified islets in the waterway’s Spratly chain.

Beijing has built up a series of military outposts in the South China Sea, which includes vital sea lanes through which about $3 trillion in global trade passes each year.

Washington and Beijing have frequently jousted over the militarization of the South China Sea, where China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines all have competing claims.

The U.S. does not maintain any claims there, but says its FONOPs are conducted globally with the aim of promoting freedom of navigation.

U.S. Indo-Pacific Command chief Adm. Philip Davidson said last month that the United States has observed a rise in Chinese military activity in the South China Sea area over the last year.

Davidson declined to quantify the increased activity — nor would he say whether the number of FONOPs will increase or remain stable.

“It’s building, it’s not reducing in any sense of the word,” Davidson was quoted as saying in Singapore on March 7 when asked about China’s military activities in the waterway. “There has been more activity with ships, fighters and bombers over the last year than in previous years, absolutely.”