China’s navy will mark 70 years since its founding next week, in a parade that will show off new warships including nuclear submarines and destroyers, giving the emergent superpower the chance to flaunt its wealth and new-found military muscle.
- China has boosted its military capabilities after years of record economic growth
- On April 23, its navy will turn 70, and a number of countries will participate in an official parade
- While some observers fear this growth, China says it will not “pursue hegemony”
While China’s involvement in naval technology stretches back to 549 BC, China’s modern navy was founded on April 23, 1949, which has remained under Chinese Communist Party control.
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 Taiwan, which Beijing considers a rogue Chinese territory.
The navy has reaped substantial windfalls as China looks to project power far from the country’s shores and protect its trading routes and guarantee safety for its citizens overseas.
Last month, Beijing unveiled a target of 7.5 per cent rise in defence spending for 2019, a slower rate than last year but one that still outpaces China’s economic growth target.
Deputy naval commander Qiu Yanpeng told reporters in the eastern city of Qingdao that Tuesday’s naval parade — likely to be overseen by President Xi himself — will feature 32 vessels and 39 aircraft.
Beijing has not officially confirmed Mr Qiu’s claims.
“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,” Mr Qiu said, without giving details.
“Some ships will be revealed for the first time.”
First aircraft carrier a Soviet retrofit, but new gear is China’s
The Liaoning, the country’s first carrier, was bought second-hand from Ukraine in 1998 and refitted in China.
It’s not clear if China’s second carrier, an as-yet unnamed ship developed and built purely in China, will also take part, but in the past few days state media has run stories praising recent sea trials.
China has rapidly invested in its capability to design and construct naval technology, including the next generation of naval technologies, such as a railgun — an electro-magnetic gun that fires projectiles at 2.5 kilometres per second.
Around a dozen foreign navies are also taking part.
While Mr Qiu did not give an exact number, China has announced the parade would include ships from countries who have complained about Chinese military activity in the disputed South China Sea, including Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
China’s last naval battles were with the Vietnamese in the South China Sea, in 1974 and 1988, though these were relatively minor skirmishes.
Chinese navy ships have also participated in international anti-piracy patrols off Somalia’s coast since late 2008.
Century of invasions informs naval strategy
Mr Qiu reiterated China’s frequent stance that its armed forces are not a threat to anyone and that no matter what happens it will never “pursue hegemony”.
“It is fair to say that the PLA Navy has not brought war or turbulence to any place,” Mr Qiu said.
But China has been scarred by its past and needs good defences at sea, he added.
“A strong navy is essential for building a strong maritime country,” Mr Qiu said.
“From 1840 to 1949, China was invaded by foreign powers from the sea more than 470 times, which caused untold suffering and deep wounds to the Chinese nation.”
China has frequently had to rebuff concerns about its military intentions, especially as military spending continues to scale new heights.
Beijing says it has nothing to hide, and has invited foreign media to cover next week’s naval parade and related activities, including a keynote speech by navy chief Shen Jinlong, who is close to President Xi.
President Xi has repeatedly expressed his desire for China to regain its rightful place as a global power, and has cited the country’s ‘century of humiliation‘ as a reason to boost China’s defence.
After Mr Qiu’s remarks, Zhang Junshe, a researcher at the PLA’s Naval Research Academy, told reporters that inviting foreign navies to take part in the parade was a sign of China’s openness and self-confidence.
He noted that China had also done this for the 60th anniversary in 2009.
“New nuclear submarines and new warships will be shown — this further goes to show that China’s navy is open and transparent,” said Mr Zhang.