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PLA Navy keeps to defender of peace, despite rise of national power
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Huang Mengmeng, a submarine radio operator from the East China Sea fleet of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy, was excited to see submarines attracted such great attention on Thursday's naval display.

"Submarines usually hide deep in the sea and people rarely know what we submarine soldiers are doing," the 25-year-old said, "but the maiden show of the navy's nuclear submarines has brought us close to the public."

"Actually submarines are not always stealthy and aggressive as common people have imagined. We are trying to be more open," Huang said.

China has just concluded a four-day celebration for the 60th anniversary of the founding of the PLA Navy, with an unprecedented international fleet review featuring the first public display of its two nuclear submarines.

PLA Navy officers have recently reiterated that nuclear submarines, like other parts of the naval forces, are developed to safeguard China's national security.

"China's national defense policy and nuclear strategy are purely defensive in nature, and the country's naval forces will not pose any threat to other countries," said Ding Yiping, deputy commander of the PLA Navy, on Monday during an exclusive interview with Xinhua.

Wu Shengli, the PLA Navy commander, also stressed that the Navy will never change its defensive strategy and will keep maintaining peace.

Actually, the country started to show its friendly intention to improve cultural exchanges with the outside world by sea explorations centuries ago.

Zheng He, a Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) court eunuch, commanded a fleet of vessels, crossed the Indian Ocean and made it to the coast of East Africa more than 600 years ago.

Historians called his sea expeditions from 1405 to 1433 "friendly and peaceful diplomatic journeys", as all the crew in his fleet were asked to respect local customs and promote Chinese culture in the spirit of peace and harmony wherever they landed.

However, military observers believed the Ming court sent fleets far afield of its shores more to show off its strength than to boost exchanges with other nations.

The flotilla sent by the PLA Navy three months ago, following the path of the naval pioneer to join a global fight against piracy, is more practical in maintaining world trade exchanges and peace.

By mid April, the Chinese naval convoy had escorted 212 vessels, including Chinese merchant vessels, UN grain-shipping vessels and merchant vessels from other countries, in pirate-infested waters off the Somali coast.

"China has extended its participation in international peacekeeping operations from the land to the ocean. It demonstrates the country's tradition of loving peace and assuming responsibilities," said Zhang Xiaolin, a professor with the strategy research office of the PLA Navy Command College.

China's naval force, established to save the country from erosion of the Western powers, have long been confined to waters near its shores to safeguard its land territory.

After Zheng He's long voyages, Chinese rulers forbade all maritime activities and cut off their relations with other nations. It was until the outbreak of the Opium War (1840-1842) that the then-ruling Qing regime became aware of the threats from the oceans, and embarked on the building of the first navy in modern China.

Since then, the Beiyang Navy of Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the Navy of the Kuomintang Regime in the first half of the 20th century and the PLA Navy have all been developed purely for defense.

"Our navy will stick to the defensive strategy, even if it is capable to host an international fleet review and send flotillas further away to join in the Somali anti-piracy mission," said Zhang Shiping, deputy chief of the war theory and strategy research department under the Chinese Academy of Military Sciences (CAMS).

In January, China issued a white paper on China's National Defense in 2008, which reiterated that "China implements a military strategy of active defense. Strategically, it pursues a principle featuring defensive operations, self-defense and attacking only after being attacked."

China's rapid economic development over the past three decades has not only helped improve its international position but also accumulated wealth for stepping up military power.

The PLA Navy has continued to renovate its weaponry over the years. Recently, it announced that it plans to build aircraft carriers, which upset some other countries.

"The PLA Navy will not alter its nature of peace, even if it has aircraft carriers," said Zhang Xiaolin.

"We build aircraft carriers to better protect the maritime security and interests of the country, instead of deterring or even violating the interests of other countries," Zhang said.

China has invested more in overseas areas and increased demands on energy sources, extending its sea transportation routes, and the PLA Navy has the obligation to safeguard the route security, he said.

Aircraft carriers are also seen as a symbol of the national power. "China has chosen to rise peacefully. Only a mighty military power can guarantee such a peaceful rise and contribute more to the maintenance of the world peace," Zhang said.

(Xinhua News Agency April 25, 2009)

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