As a scheduled maritime parade in Qingdao, East China's Shandong Province the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy on April 23 edges closer, military observers are eagerly awaiting their first glimpse of the Chinese naval fleet that is expected to feature aircraft carriers, advanced destroyers and submarines.
The PLA Navy opened an official Sina Weibo account on Thursday and launched a 10-day countdown toward the anniversary by introducing weapons, equipment and naval history.
Whether the Type 001A, China's second aircraft carrier (the first one built domestically), and the first Type 055, a 10,000 ton-class guided missile destroyer, will take part in the celebration is the main point of interest among Chinese military enthusiasts.
The Ministry of National Defense has been tight-lipped over the two warships' potential participation. Ministry spokesperson Wu Qian said at a routine press conference on March 28 that the new carrier is "making steady progress" and will be commissioned "based on the progress achieved and the specific conditions of the trials," and that he is "looking forward to the commissioning date [of the Type 055 destroyer] the same as all of you."
According to Chinese media reports, the Type 001A carrier is still at the Dalian Shipyard, Northeast China's Liaoning Province. Photos taken over the past three weeks show the aircraft carrier undergoing deck coating paint jobs.
Although the painting seems to be progressing smoothly and the scaffolding around the superstructure is already removed, based on photos made available on Chinese image provider IC on Friday, some reports said the carrier would not make it to the parade.
Whether the second carrier will appear in Qingdao will likely remain a mystery until the official announcement, Li Jie, a Beijing-based naval expert, said. "It might take one or two more sea trials before the domestically made carrier can be commissioned, which will likely happen within 2019."
The Type 055 destroyer, on the other hand, is more likely to join the maritime parade, military observers said.
Reports said the warship, with a displacement of more than 10,000 tons, has put up many colors in late March, which some analysts said is an indication of imminent commission. Photos taken by local residents and commercial satellites, whose authenticity cannot be immediately verified, show the destroyer has left the Shanghai-based Jiangnan Shipyard, and has arrived in Qingdao, where the parade is scheduled to take place.
Wei Dongxu, a Beijing-based military analyst, told the Global Times that the destroyer has been fully tested following many sea trials, and will likely be commissioned soon and join the parade.
Some military enthusiasts also say they hope to see the public debut of the Type 095 nuclear-powered attack submarine as a surprise, as the next generation of attack submarines has remained mysterious for a long time. Both Li and Wei said there is a chance, but it is hard to tell for now.
China's first aircraft carrier the Liaoning will very likely participate in the fleet review, after returning to its base in Qingdao in February following months of maintenance at Dalian Shipyard, analysts said.
Other PLA Navy vessels, including Type 052D and Type 052C destroyers, Type 054A frigate, Type 094 nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine and other types of ships that are already in naval service will also likely show up, military analysts predicted.
Navy airborne divisions might conduct a fly by with JH-7A fighter bombers, H-6 bombers, anti-submarine aircraft, electronic warfare aircraft, early warning aircraft and helicopters, as unverified photos of rehearsals of these types of aircraft in Qingdao taken by local residents have surfaced on social media.
China held a maritime parade in the South China Sea in April 2018. It featured 48 warships, 76 aircraft and more than 10,000 personnel and was hailed as the biggest naval parade since the foundation of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the PLA Daily reported then.
Wei said this year's parade could be even bigger, as other countries are invited to join.
China's Defense Ministry revealed at the March press conference that more than 60 countries have confirmed delegations to participate in a set of multinational naval activities, with multiple countries having confirmed they will send naval vessels to the international fleet review.
While a full list has not been released by the Chinese side, foreign vessels, including the Japanese destroyer Suzutsuki, Indian destroyer Kolkata, Philippine amphibious landing dock Davao Del Sur and two frigates from Vietnam will take part in the fleet review, with Russian ships also participating, according to media reports.
Friendly neighboring countries, Asian and European countries, major and developing naval powers and those who have procured China-made naval vessels are all potential participants, Wei noted.
In 2009, the PLA Navy held a similar parade in Qingdao to celebrate its 60th founding anniversary. Delegations from 29 countries and 21 vessels from 14 countries were parts of the parade.
This year's planned participation of more than 60 countries shows the PLA Navy has become more confident and more open to the world, thanks to its significant capability boost in the past 10 years, Wei said.
Li said that the PLA Navy's opening-up has gone in tandem with the country's opening-up, with the aim of more exchanges and friendly cooperation with other countries.
The US, however, will reportedly not send any warships this time while it sent the destroyer Fitzgerald to Qingdao 10 years ago.
The US now sees China as a strategic competitor, so it does not want to lend any support to the Chinese military, especially as it sees the latter grow stronger, Chinese experts said, noting that by not participating in the parade, the US will lose opportunities to boost mutual understanding, prevent misjudgments and get to know the PLA Navy better.