- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 21, 2009

QINGDAO, CHINA (AP) - China plans to show off its nuclear submarines at a major international naval gathering this week, state media reported Tuesday, the first known public display of some its most potent seaborne weaponry.

The People’s Liberation Army, controlled by the Communist Party, has traditionally kept its best weaponry tightly under wraps, but recent years have seen a growing openness as it seeks to take its place among the ranks of modern, professional militaries.

Vice Adm. Ding Yiping, the navy’s deputy commander, said the submarines would appear at Thursday’s international fleet review in the northern port city of Qingdao, but did not specify the types of vessels.

The submarine display, on the 60th anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, is a sign of growing confidence in the navy’s rapid adoption of sophisticated new vessels and weapons systems, an upgrade that has spurred unease among its neighbors in the region.

Further acquisitions are believed to include one or more aircraft carriers, which could worry some nations, since Beijing has yet to specify the role a Chinese carrier would play, said Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of U.S. Naval Operations.

He was in Qingdao for talks with his Chinese counterpart, Adm. Wu Shengli. Wu did not comment on a possible Chinese carrier.

Ding reiterated China’s contention that the People’s Liberation Army does not pose a threat to other nations, despite concerns that a more powerful navy could embolden China in asserting its territorial claims, particularly in the South China Sea.

“The PLA Navy will continue to make contributions to maintain world, regional and maritime peace,” Ding was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency.

China’s 225,000-member navy operates more submarines than any other Asian nation, with up to 10 nuclear-powered vessels and as many as 60 diesel-electric subs.

China’s second-generation, nuclear-powered Jin and Shang class submarines are considered just a notch below cutting-edge U.S. and Russian craft. Its diesel-electric Yuan class boasts an indigenously developed air-independent propulsion system that allows it to remain submerged for weeks.

A total of 21 ships from 14 foreign countries are attending the Qingdao naval display, the first of its kind for China.

In comments to the foreign commanders, Wu said world navies need to work together to confront nonconventional security threats _ a reference to the ongoing multinational piracy mission of the Somalian coast to which China has contributed ships.

“At present, the terrorist, separatist and extremist forces are running rampant. Transnational crimes such as piracy, maritime armed robbery, smuggling, etc., tend to be severe,” Wu said.

He encouraged all navies to make maritime peace their “unshakable mission.”

Inaugurated last December, China’s anti-piracy patrols mark a rare joint operation with navies from other countries and the first time the communist state has dispatched ships abroad on a combat mission.

Wu also reiterated China’s insistence that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea guides the resolution of all maritime disputes. China insists the convention gives it the right to restrict the collecting of military intelligence within its 200-mile (320-kilometer) exclusive economic zones, and has dispatched boats to harass U.S. Naval vessels within that area.

“We must abide by the principles and the regulations of the United Nations Charter when handling maritime affairs and carrying out military operations on the oceans,” Wu said.

The U.S. insists on the right of free passage in international waters, and military officials say the convention specifically gives warships and naval auxiliary vessels immunity from being stopped, searched or boarded, and gives them the authority to conduct military operations within the economic zones.

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