Confusing messages leave spectators with a sinking feeling

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 April, 2009, 12:00am

It was a moment of joy and pride for many when the country's modern PLA Navy fleet, accompanied by dozens of foreign warships, began an unprecedented parade in Qingdao to celebrate the 60th anniversary of its founding.

But for most of those who braved the cold and strong wind, waiting all day to get a glimpse of the parade, it ultimately proved to be a disappointing affair because of confusing messages and a lack of transparency on the part of the authorities.

Parts of the southern coastline of the city in Shandong were packed with spectators eager to watch the much-touted event - the nation's first international naval parade.

State leaders had held three naval inspections before, but they were all closed-door events and were nowhere near yesterday's parade in terms of scale, political importance and symbolism.

Mainland media had been writing about it for a week, and people from across the country flocked to Qingdao to watch. A police officer in the city's May 4th Square said at least 10,000 people had gathered there yesterday. The square is a promenade overlooking Fushan Bay, touted as being the closest viewing point to where the review would take place.

'Even after 4pm when the inspection was over, there were still more than 6,000 people here,' the officer said.

The crowd started to congregate in the square and other nearby areas along the coast from early morning. Many came equipped with binoculars, as they kept trying to glimpse something on the water. But all they saw was an expanse of grey emptiness. They did not know the parade was scheduled for the afternoon.

And it was impossible to see anything even with the help of a telescope - as the site of the inspection was 20 nautical miles from the shore. All this information was missing from the government's propaganda.

Despite intensive coverage by state media, the event remained surreal for many. Focusing mainly on the navy's rising prowess and international recognition, the media seldom revealed basic information such as the time and venue of the parade.

'I received a news update on my cellphone. It quoted Xinhua as saying that the review was at 9am,' said a Qingdao resident, Mr Wang. 'But when I came here, I saw nothing. I thought the parade was over.'

Mr Wang persisted until dusk. His best moment came when he saw two ships returning to a dock, but he was not even sure if they were navy ships.

It was a long day for a Mr Liu from Jinan . After arriving early yesterday by train, he rushed to a bay near Qingdao Port to see foreign naval ships sailing to the parade site. Then he hurried to May 4th Square. After hours of waiting, he headed home last night, downhearted.

'I am extremely disappointed. As a Chinese I feel very proud that our country is hosting such a big event, but we couldn't even have a look at it,' he said. 'Why didn't they just make it clear that it would be impossible to see from the coast?'

Mr Guo, from Chongqing , said: 'The parade should be a celebration for everyone in the country, not just for the navy.'

Even after 4pm when the inspection was over, there were still more than 6,000 people here A police officer in Qingdao's May 4th Square