The People’s Liberation Army is gearing up for yet another big celebratory event later this month, when a rousing naval parade is expected to be held in the East China Sea off the port city of Qingdao to mark the 70th anniversary of the Chinese Navy.

The event will be the fourth such military review to be presided over by Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012, and his imperative for military build-up and reforms will be the overwhelming motif of a carefully-orchestrated naval show of force.

The PLA Navy will strut its stuff with a cavalcade of new warships, including the 10,000-ton Type 055 guided missile destroyers, the Type 052D destroyers and others, to buoy the spirits of its troops.

Xi insects PLA seamen in the South China Sea. Photo: Xinhua
The Liaoning in the South China Sea. Photo: Weibo via VCG

It is said that Xi will emerge from a dais aboard the Liaoning – the PLA’s first aircraft carrier refurbished from a Soviet-built hull – to inspect the parade, as a symbol of the PLA parading its blue-water navy status.

Contrary to Xi’s wishes, however, the Type 001A, China’s first homemade carrier, is unlikely to join forces with her sister vessel in Qingdao due to delayed lacquer dipping works being carried out on its flight deck. The new carrier, still sporting a Liaoning-lookalike ski-jump bow, has wrapped up several sea trials and is now moored at the Dalian Shipyard for maintenance while technicians carry out further tweaks to its propulsion and weapons systems.

Even without the new carrier, the scale of the upcoming parade will dwarf that of a similar display in April 2018, when the Liaoning led an armada of warships and nuclear submarines carrying around 10,000 PLA seamen  in an unprecedented deployment in the middle of the South China Sea. The pomp and circumstance back then prompted Chinese papers to hail the sea-going show of force as China’s largest such event in 600 years.

Now the record will be smashed in a little over a year as vessels from countries including Russia, South Korea, Japan, India and Pakistan are set to sail to Qingdao for the naval extravaganza, according to the Chinese defense ministry.

Russia will field its 4,700-ton Admiral Gorshkov frigate, which will also take part in a joint drill with the PLA later this month, and India will dispatch its 7,500-ton Aegis-class equivalent Kolkata destroyer as well as a supply ship. A Japanese corvette will also join the parade, marking the first time in seven years that a Japanese warship has sailed in Chinese waters.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon has shunned Beijing’s invitation, fearing that its participation can be painted in Chinese state media as Washington’s tacit acceptance of a PLA show of force. A military attaché from the US embassy in Beijing will be the sole US representative at the event.

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