Chinese president inspects foreign fleets

Chinese President Hu Jintao met today with US and other foreign naval commanders ahead of a display of ships broadcasting Beijing’s intentions of becoming a major sea power.

In its brief report, the official Xinhua News Agency gave no details of the meeting in the northern port of Qingdao, which was to be followed by an international fleet review featuring ships from China and 14 other nations.

Held to formally mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), the gathering is being portrayed by state media as a signal of China’s intentions to develop its navy into a force able to conduct operations far from home ports in defence of the country’s maritime trade.

Those plans are believed to include the addition of one or more aircraft carriers to the fleet over the coming years, possibly emboldening China in enforcing its territorial claims in the South China Sea and elsewhere.

China deployed its anti-piracy patrol last December to Somalia in a rare joint operation with navies from other countries. It was the first time the communist state dispatched ships abroad on a combat mission.

Today’s fleet review was due to include the first-ever public display of China’s nuclear submarines in a sign of the navy’s growing confidence in its vessels and capabilities.

The 225,000-member PLAN already operates more subs than any other Asian nation, with up to 10 nuclear-powered vessels and as many as 60 diesel-electric subs.

The country’s nuclear-powered Jin and Shang class submarines are considered just a notch below cutting-edge US and Russian craft.

Its diesel-electric Yuan class also boasts an indigenously developed air-independent propulsion system that allows it to remain submerged for weeks.

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