Chinese President Hu Jintao sought Thursday to reassure the international community over China's rising military strength before presiding over a naval display highlighting Beijing's ambitions of becoming a major sea power.
In remarks to U.S. and other foreign naval commanders, Hu repeated China's standard position that it would never threaten other nations or seek regional dominance.
China's military, including the fast modernizing navy, "will always be a force for the preservation of world peace and advancement of common development," Hu said.
China's annual double-digit percentage increases in military spending have rattled its Asian neighbors and Washington has warned Beijing's failure to clearly declare its intentions could prompt further unease.
Increased capabilities have bred greater confidence, however, and the People's Liberation Army has in recent years begun to ease its habitual secrecy, increasing exchanges with foreign militaries as it strives to adopt international standards and take part in United Nations peacekeeping missions.
Thursday's naval review off the northern port of Qingdao, which included vessels from the United States and 13 other foreign nations, was the most tangible sign yet of the change in attitude.
Hosted by the People's Liberation Army Navy in honor of its 60th anniversary, the international fleet inspection featured the first known public display of its nuclear submarines.
Two diesel-electric submarines also took part in the half-hour sail past, along with five missile destroyers, six frigates, and a large amphibious landing ship. Above them flew electronic reconnaissance and early warning planes, fighter jets and anti-submarine-warfare helicopters.
Foreign vessels included those from Australia, Brazil, France, India, South Korea, Pakistan, and Russia. Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations, represented the U.S. Navy at the events, along with the guided missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald.
Japan sent the deputy commander of its navy, Vice Adm. Koji Kato, but did not participate in the naval review in deference to Chinese sensitivities over Japan's brutal World War II invasion and occupation of much of the country. Japanese forces controlled Qingdao from 1914 to 1922 and again from 1938 to 1945.
Hu, who also heads the Communist Party commission that commands the armed forces, viewed the display from aboard the Chinese destroyer Shijiazhuang, accompanied by the Chinese navy's commander, Adm. Wu Shengli, Defense Minister Liang Guanglie, and other top military brass.
The navy has been a major beneficiary of the greater allocations, adding to its arsenal of sophisticated new submarines, aircraft, warships and weapons systems. The 225,000-member service already operates more subs than any other Asian nation, with up to 10 nuclear-powered vessels and as many as 60 diesel-electric subs.
Thursday's gathering was portrayed by state media as a signal of China's intent to develop its navy into a force able to conduct operations far from home ports in defense 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.
'Defensive military policy'
In his remarks, posted on the Web site of the Communist Party's official People's Daily newspaper, Hu made no direct reference to territorial disputes, but said China was intent on following the "path of peaceful development."
"This path of development dictates that China maintains a defensive military policy," he said.
Hu called also for stepped-up cooperation among navies to safeguard maritime safety, a nod to China's first-ever deployment of anti-piracy patrols last December to Somalia.
"Strengthening exchanges between the navies of all countries and embarking on international maritime safety cooperation substantially contributes to the building of harmonious oceans and seas," Hu said.