BEIJING - China will show off its resurgent naval strength this week at a parade marking 60 years since the founding of its navy, presenting its fleet of warships and nuclear submarines as a force for peace, not aggression.
The fleet parade marking the anniversary of the formation of the People's Liberation Army navy will feature newer vessels on show off the northern port city of Qingdao.
Chinese navy commander Admiral Wu Shengli said the celebrations will show his nation as a force for peace, harmony and cooperation at sea, the Liberation Army Daily reported on Tuesday.
But the gathering of ships and submarines may be taken as a disquieting sign of Chinese assertion by other governments worried about sea boundary disputes and rivalry for resources.
Chinese commentators have speculated the government will use the celebrations to announce firmer plans to build an aircraft carrier, seen by many here as the badge of a mature naval power.
Now our country's economy has developed to this level, to protect national maritime rights and interests ... we must have an aircraft carrier, retired Chinese navy commander Shi Yunsheng, told Outlook Weekly, a Chinese current affairs magazine.
The navy must continue developing in its current direction, expanding spending so that the navy corresponds to China's status as a great power.
U.S. Admiral Gary Roughead, one of the top guests at the parade, told reporters in Beijing before leaving for Qingdao he would use the visit to try and improve military relations, even as concerns over China's naval buildup remain.
We can all look at the types of ships and the types of airplanes and the numbers of airplanes -- that's interesting and worthy of note, he said.
But it is how countries elect to use those capabilities, and what the purposes are that they see, and how they will use them and how they will interact with other navies. That's important and that's why this dialogue is under way.
The military ritual comes while China has become increasingly confident and vocal about its hopes to become a deep-water power. For decades, China's military has been preoccupied with Taiwan, the self-ruled island off the mainland that Beijing says must accept reunification, by force if needed.
In China's farthest naval projection since the treasure ships of the Ming Dynasty, warships have sailed to far-away Somalia to guard against pirates attacking merchant vessels.
David Lai, a researcher at the United States Army War College, wrote recently that the anti-pirate mission was a small step in China's march to become a fully-functional world power.
The real test will come when China has to defend interests not covered by the United Nations or is in conflict with the United States, Lai wrote in the journal China Security.
Chinese boats last month tangled with a U.S. ship in the South China Sea, which Beijing claims as its exclusive economic zone, in a reminder of the risks behind Beijing's increasing military assertiveness and self-confidence.
This year's U.S. Defense Department annual report on Chinese military capabilities said China was making advances in denying outsiders access to offshore areas and was improving its nuclear, space and cyber warfare capabilities.
The United States has long complained that China's increased military spending lacks transparency, charges Beijing denies.
In the run-up to the parade, senior Chinese naval officials have promoted the country's ambitions on the seas. Admiral Wu has said China would accelerate development of warships, stealth submarines and long-range missiles.