Seven decades after its founding, the Chinese Navy put on a show Tuesday of the numerous strides it has made to become a “world-class” force to be reckoned — a shift that has unnerved some regional countries and the United States.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy marked its 70th anniversary with an international fleet review and a massive naval parade, moves that could be seen as muscle-flexing by a resurgent China.
But President Xi Jinping looked to assuage fears of a rising China, saying his country would work hand-in-hand with both friends and rivals alike.
“The peace-loving Chinese people long for peace and will unswervingly stay on the path of peaceful development,” the official Xinhua News Agency quoted Xi as saying.
Held in the port city of Qingdao and nearby waters and airspace, Xi oversaw the parade from aboard the destroyer Xining as the navy showed off 32 of its warships — including its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning — as well as its latest nuclear submarines, destroyers and fighter jets.
Nearly 20 foreign vessels from around a dozen countries, including Japan, Russia, Singapore, Australia, India, Thailand and Vietnam, were taking part in the fleet review.
Japan sent the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Suzutsuki destroyer Sunday to attend the review, marking the first visit to China by a Japanese warship in more than seven years and reflecting a thaw in bilateral relations.
The event also saw the long-awaited debut of the Chinese Navy’s most powerful destroyer, the 10,000-ton class Type 055 — Asia’s largest and most advanced destroyer, designed to guard China’s first homegrown aircraft carrier and meet the navy’s demand for modern warships.
Just ahead of the fleet review, Xi called for “concerted efforts to safeguard maritime peace and build a maritime community with a shared future” in remarks before the heads of foreign delegations invited to participate in naval events marking the anniversary.
The Chinese leader said maritime peace and security involve all countries and “need to be jointly maintained and cherished.”
Responding to fears of his country’s growing military prowess and aggressive maritime moves, Xi reiterated his calls for “win-win cooperation,” and said the Chinese military “is committed to creating a security environment featuring equality, mutual trust, fairness and justice, joint participation and shared benefits.”
China’s armed forces,” Xi added, “are willing to work with their foreign counterparts to actively contribute to maritime development and prosperity.”
He also touted more and better consultations to solve issues “instead of resorting to violence or threatening with violence.”
“All countries should consult as equals, improve the mechanism for communication in the face of crises, strengthen regional security cooperation and promote the proper solution to maritime disputes,” he said.
China 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, part of what it calls its “core interests.”
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. And near Taiwan, which Beijing views as a renegade province that must be brought back into the fold, by force if necessary, it has conducted so-called encirclement exercises with fighter jets and heavy bombers.
In the East China Sea, Beijing is at odds with Tokyo over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, which are also claimed by China, where they are known as the Diaoyus.
In an editorial Monday ahead of the parade, the state-run Global Times blasted portrayals of the maritime parade as a show of force, calling the events “open and righteous.” “Neighboring countries, some of which have territorial and diplomatic disputes with China, sent warships to the ceremony,” it said. “This shows that China and these countries’ co-management of China’s rise has been successful. The so-called China military threat did not hinder their relations with China.”
It said that China would never send its aircraft carriers “to distant waters to punish small countries,” adding that its naval forces “will never cruise near hostile countries’ shore and force them to sign unfair treaties.
“A powerful PLA Navy will not imitate those maritime empires,” it said.
“But,” the editorial added, “no country should show off their strength in China’s offshore area. One of China’s purposes behind building a powerful navy is to make external forces more restrained at China’s doorsteps.
“Major countries’ navies grew powerful in history because of the need to expand,” it went on. “But the PLA Navy has become powerful because it does not want to be bullied.”