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Chinese navy sails onto world stage
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21:08, April 21, 2009

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The Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) was making final preparations for Thursday's international fleet parade in the eastern port of Qingdao to celebrate the 60th anniversary of its founding.

The parade will feature 21 navy ships from other countries.

Zhang Xiaolin, a professor at the Strategic Research Institute under the Nanjing-based Navy Command College, said the parade was set to open an extraordinary chapter in the PLAN's foreign relations, and the PLAN was stepping up efforts to engage the international community.

Major-General Zhang Shiping, a researcher with the PLA's Academy of Military Sciences in Beijing, agreed.

China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) kicks off a grand maritime ceremony to mark the 60th anniversary of its navy at 6 p.m. Monday off the coast of the eastern city of Qingdao,China's Shandong Province, April 20, 2009. (Xinhua/Li Xuanliang)

He said inviting foreign navies to China is a process of communication and exchange.

"More importantly, it lays the foundations for future cooperation and exchange with foreign navies," said Zhang Shiping.

Among the important foreign military officers to participate in the parade in Qingdao is U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead, who was the highest-ranking U.S. officer to visit China this year.

Roughead said earlier in Beijing that he believed military-to-military relation was important to the broad U.S-Chinaties.

He said during his talks with PLAN Commander Adm. Wu Shengli on Saturday that they exchanged views on enhancing navy-to-navy cooperation and both navies' operations off the coast of Somalia.

In fact, "inviting in and going out", which has been used to describe China's foreign trade, has been increasingly applied by the Chinese army, especially by the PLAN, in its relations with foreign military.

In November 1985, a Chinese flotilla consisting of destroyer Hefei and supply ship Fengcang visited Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. It was the PLAN's first foreign visit.

Since then, the Chinese navy has greatly increased friendship visits and conducted joint military drills and international humanitarian missions with foreign armies.

In May to September of 2002, another flotilla consisting of destroyer Qingdao and supply ship Taicang completed the PLAN's first global navigation journey and visited 10 countries.

In September 2007, two Chinese naval vessels conducted a first-ever joint exercise with British aircraft carrier Ark Royal in the Atlantic sea near the southern British port city of Portsmouth.

In March this year, the PLAN's destroyer Guangzhou took part in the 10-day "Peace 09" military drill at the Arabia Sea off the southern Pakistani port of Karachi. During the mission, the PLAN dispatched a special task force for the first time to participate in an anti-terror exercise on land. It also took home new experience in maritime anti-terror cooperation with foreign navies.

Adm. Wu said that the PLAN would continue foreign exchanges and cooperation to cope with non-traditional security threats in oceans.

On Dec. 26, a Chinese three-ship fleet, consisting of destroyer Wuhan and Haikou, and the supply ship Weishanhu, set sail to the Gulf of Aden for an anti-piracy mission.

China's first-ever anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden made headlines among international media. For Chinese naval soldiers, it was a "blue water experience" featuring frequent communications and exchanges with foreign navies.

Ji Wanli, a staff officer for foreign affairs with the escort fleet, wrote in his diary, "We have met warships of European Union, U.S. Combined Task Force 151, the Russian and Indian navies since we arrived in the Gulf of Aden. We sent greetings and exchanged information about fleet actions, pirates and suspicious targets and so on via e-mails and fax."

During hazy days when the visibility was low, Ji and his fellow comrades would heighten vigilance, so that they could keep uninterrupted connection with the Chinese and foreign commercial vessels which they escorted.

Since commercial vessels usually have foreign sailors, the Chinese escort fleet had not only set up two high-frequency command and coordination channels, one in Chinese and the other in English, but also employed short wave, maritime satellite telephone and other means to maintain free communication with commercial vessels.

The first Chinese fleet to the Gulf of Aden and Somali waters escorted more than 100 ships and successfully rescued three foreign merchant ships, before being replaced by the second fleet earlier this month.

Zhang Xiaolin said since the Gulf of Aden was international seawaters, international cooperation and coordination was essential during escort, which brought the PLAN's concept of security cooperation from theory into practice.

In the meantime, more exchanges would be conducive for the PLAN to learn from successful experiences with foreign navies, he said. For instance, it is worthwhile for the PLAN to learn from the French navy for its experience in hostage rescue and the employment of psychological war.

Though the Chinese navy has been sticking to the principles of non-alignment, non-confrontation and not directing against any third party in its foreign relations, it also promises to conduct cooperation with other navies in such fields as intelligence exchange and humanitarian rescue missions.

Zhu Feng, an scholar with Peking University's International Studies School, said China's effort in recent years to expand military foreign relations had become one of its major ways to build up trust, dispel suspicion and counter the so-called "China Threat" preached by some Westerners.

The PLAN's strengthened foreign relations was of great significance for China to showcase its peace and cooperation strategy, he said.

Earlier this month, the second fleet of Chinese escort ships had taken over the anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden from the first fleet.

The commander of the mission, Rear-Admiral Yao Zhilou, said his escort fleet was willing to have more intelligence and information exchanges with other naval ships and participate in joint-humanitarian rescue missions.

Since 1985, the PLAN has sent 33 fleets with more than 40 warships for friendship visits to more than 30 countries on five continents.

"The participation of foreign navies in the celebration of the 60th anniversary is another hard-won opportunity for the Chinese navy. After this, the PLAN should make use of every possible opportunity to go out and engage more with the international community," Zhang Xiaolin added.

Source: Xinhua

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