Xi floats accord amid show of might

Top News | ASSOCIATED PRESS 24 Apr 2019

President Xi Jinping urged closer ties among the world's navies yesterday amid tensions over China's rapid expansion of its naval forces and forceful assertions of territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Xi's remarks came in an address to foreign officers at a fleet review marking the 70th anniversary of the People's Liberation Army Navy, an event Beijing is using to showcase its growing ability to exert force far from its shores.

He then boarded the destroyer Xining, one of China's most modern and capable warships, in Qingdao to preside at the review, which also featured China's sole commissioned aircraft carrier Liaoning, numerous other surface ships and submarines and a display of naval aviation.

China's navy will "continue to strengthen exchanges and cooperation, actively shoulder its international responsibilities, safeguard the security of international waterways and provide maritime security," Xi said.

"Holding high the banner of win-win cooperation, the Chinese military is committed to creating a security environment featuring equality, mutual trust, fairness and justice, joint participation and shared benefits," said Xi.

Such rhetoric contrasts starkly with Beijing's aggressive approach in the South China Sea, claiming virtually the entire sea, its fisheries and seabed resources.

While Beijing says it upholds the rights to free navigation and overflight in the area, its forces have been accused of challenging or operating dangerously around military vessels and aircraft from other countries. Manila this month issued a rare rebuke of large numbers of Chinese vessels near islands and islets the Philippines occupies.

US freedom-of-navigation operations near Chinese-held islands have been a source of friction, with China dispatching ships and aircraft to protest the foreign presence.

China is building naval vessels at a rate outpacing its rivals, including the United States, and is also establishing a powerful coast guard to back up its territorial claims. Its first domestically built aircraft carrier is set to enter service - with more believed to be in the works - while its missile destroyers and nuclear attack submarines are equipped with increasingly lethal weaponry.

It has also ventured farther from shore than ever, and undertaken international missions, including sending ships to patrol for pirates in the Gulf of Aden, evacuating civilians from war-torn Yemen and offering medical services in developing nations as far away as South America.

The naval review included 32 Chinese vessels and 39 aircraft, along with 18 vessels from 13 foreign countries. One notable absence was the United States despite the arrival last week of the 7th Fleet flagship, the USS Blue Ridge, in Hong Kong.

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