FILE PHOTO: China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier with accompanying fleet conducts a drill in an area of South China Sea, in this undated photo taken December, 2016. REUTERS/Stringer/File photo
by Ben Blanchard (Reuters) – China’s navy wants maritime “tranquillity and good order”, its chief said on Monday, ahead of a parade to mark its 70th anniversary at which the military is expected to display new warships including nuclear submarines and destroyers.
President Xi Jinping is overseeing a sweeping plan to refurbish the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) by developing everything from stealth jets to aircraft carriers as China ramps up its presence in the South China Sea and around self-ruled Taiwan, which has rattled nerves in the region.
The navy has been a key beneficiary of the modernization plan, with China looking to project power far from its shores and protect its trading routes and citizens overseas.
Last month, Beijing unveiled a target of 7.5 percent rise in defense spending for this year, a slower rate than last year but still outpacing its economic growth target.
Tuesday’s parade in the waters off the eastern city of Qingdao will feature 32 vessels and 39 aircraft, some of which will not have been unveiled before, as well as warships from 13 foreign countries including India, Australia and Vietnam.
Speaking at a reception in Qingdao, navy chief Shen Jinlong said China was looking to promote trust and cooperation this week in its interactions with foreign navies and delegations.
“China’s navy is willing to, together with other navies, tackle maritime security challenges and maintain maritime peace, tranquillity and good order, stay committed to maritime security and development and actively provide more public goods for world maritime security,” Shen, who is close to Xi, said.
“The PLA navy is willing to be your close, friendly and equal partner for mutual support, development and win-win cooperation and remain united and act resolutely with all of you to safeguard world peace and stability,” he added.
“Let us contribute more to an ocean of lasting peace common security and prosperity, an ocean that is open and inclusive.”
Military officers accompanying reporters in Qingdao have been at pains to point out China has no hostile intent with the naval parade and it is not a show of force but a sign of a genuine desire for global maritime cooperation.
China has not said which new equipment it may reveal, but state media has run several glowing reports in recent days about a second and as-yet unnamed aircraft carrier, domestically built and undergoing sea trials.
The Liaoning, its first carrier, was bought second-hand from Ukraine in 1998 and refitted in China.
While Chinese navy ships have participated in international anti-piracy patrols off Somalia’s coast since late 2008, its ships’ last naval battles were with the Vietnamese in the South China Sea, in 1974 and 1988, though these were relatively minor skirmishes.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel
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