China puts a damper on navy’s 70th anniversary celebrations as it tries to allay fears over rising strength
- Poor weather compounds low-key feel to event as Chinese military seeks to address concerns about its growing strength
- Centrepiece of event was appearance of new Type 055 destroyer which has been named the Nanchang
A 32-strong Chinese fleet led by Asia’s largest destroyer, the Type 055, joined with 18 foreign warships from 13 countries on Tuesday for a naval parade to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the PLA navy.
The naval parade was held off the coast of Qingdao in eastern Shandong province in heavy mist and strong wind, and was described by military experts as a carefully designed and low profile event intended to alleviate scepticism over China’s growing maritime power.
In contrast, last year’s celebrations in the South China Sea featured a larger fleet – of 48 Chinese warships – the biggest show of strength in the country’s history.
A military insider, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the US had snubbed this year’s event amid concerns about China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea, while other Asian countries were worried about Beijing’s ambitions to build the second most powerful navy in the world – all of which meant it “was inappropriate for China to play up its birthday party”.
President Xi Jinping, who is also chairman of the all-powerful Central Military Commission, watched over the event from the Xining, a Type 52D guided-missile destroyer and ordered naval commander Vice Admiral Shen Jinlong to start the fleet review at 2.30pm.
“Salute to you, comrades. Comrades, thanks for your hard work,” Xi called out to the officers standing on deck as the ships sailed past, in images later broadcast on state television.
“Hail to you, chairman,” they replied. “Serve the people.”
Before reviewing the fleet, Xi told visiting officers from foreign navies that maritime forces around the world should work together to promote dialogue and maintain peace at sea.
“Nations should use consultation to resolve matters, and should not easily resort to force or threats of force,” said Xi. “Nations should consult on an equal basis, improve crisis management mechanisms, step up regional security cooperation and push for proper settlement of maritime disputes.”
The naval review began with two Type 094 nuclear-powered submarines sailing past the Xining, followed by six diesel electronic subs.
The Type 094 is China's latest and largest strategic submarine, one of which can carry 16 nuclear-armed missiles and was first put on show during last year’s parade.
This year’s event saw the unveiling the new Type 055, which has been named the Nanchang after the capital of Jiangxi province, the city where the Chinese Communist Party staged its first uprising against the Nationalist government.
The PLA had not announced that the ship would be joining the parade so its appearance indicates it “had been put into service a few weeks before the parade”, Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie said.
“The Type 055 is the main focus of the parade because it’s the giant ship’s first public appearance since it joined with the PLA navy,” Li said.
Built entirely in China, The giant destroyer was designed to guard China’s aircraft carriers and meet the navy’s demand for modern warships.
It is believed to be the second most powerful vessel of its kind after the US Navy’s Zumwalt-class destroyer.
Other warships on display included the navy’s Type 052C and 052D destroyers, four Type 071 and Type 072 amphibious docks with helicopters and tanks, eight advanced frigates and four supply ships.
A total of 39 aircraft, including J-10 fighter jets, helicopters and strategic bombers, were due to take part in the event but poor visibility meant that none of them could be seen from the decks of the participating vessels.
The Liaoning, China's only active aircraft carrier, and its strike group closed the event – and the J-15 fighter jets on its deck the only planes that were visible during the entire parade.
A total of 18 foreign vessels also took part in the review, including Russia’s Admiral Gorshkov frigate and the Japanese destroyers.
Senior colonel Zhang Ye, a naval expert from the PLA’s Naval Research Institute, told reporters that the Liaoning’s sister ship, the Type 001A, was not ready for show because it was still undertaking sea trials and other experiments.
Macau-based military observer Antony Wong Dong said it was “very rare” for a fleet review to be held in the afternoon and bad weather was the key factor behind the timing of the event.
On Monday night, state-run China Central Television suddenly announced it would cancel live coverage of the event.
No journalists and guests attending the event were allowed to take mobile phones or Wi-fi devices on board the observation ships, to prevent the event being live-streamed.
“The cancellation of live coverage by CCTV might be caused by the bad weather, because it’s very dangerous for aircraft to fly in [low visibility],” a military insider said.
Additional reporting by Liu Zhen