World / Asia-Pacific

Fleet review called off as search continues

By Pu Zhendong (China Daily) Updated: 2014-04-16 08:02

China has canceled an international fleet review to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the establishment of the People's Liberation Army navy because of the continuing search for the missing Malaysian airliner.

PLA navy spokesman Liang Yang confirmed the decision on Tuesday.

The event was canceled because Chinese naval vessels are involved in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which disappeared on March 8 with 239 people on board. The search currently is focusing on part of the southern Indian Ocean.

"China has attached the utmost importance to the search effort. The navy has dispatched many vessels to help in the search and rescue activities," Liang said.

Australian search authorities said on Tuesday that a US navy marine drone, the Blue-fin 21 autonomous underwater vehicle, has joined the search.

The decision to use the vessel came as ping signals, presumably from the plane's black box recorders, faded as the batteries on the locator beacons died after 30 days.

"Given these conditions, China has decided to cancel the fleet review, which was designed to commemorate the founding of the PLA navy," Liang said.

The review was scheduled to take place in late April on the sidelines of the 14th annual meeting of the Western Pacific Naval Symposium in Qingdao, Shandong province.

This is the first time that China has hosted the naval symposium, and top naval officers from more than 20 countries in the Asia-Pacific region will participate.

The symposium was first held in 1987 as a forum where naval officers of Pacific countries could meet biennially to discuss initiatives to address regional and global maritime issues.

Liang said a multilateral maritime exercise will also be launched during the event.

A Japanese official said in March that Tokyo was not invited because Beijing is intentionally excluding Japan due to tensions in the East China Sea, Kyodo News Agency reported.

Japan lodged a protest during a preliminary meeting for the symposium, held in mid-January in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, but China remained adamant, saying the symposium, fleet review and joint exercises were separate matters.

Liang said the joint exercise, set to celebrate the navy's anniversary, is not an activity within the symposium's framework.

"As for the exercise, China has invited some members of the symposium, as well as some nonmembers, to send vessels," Liang said.

Li Jie, a senior professor at the Naval Military Studies Research Institute of the People's Liberation Army, said Japan's continuous provocations in the East China Sea have made its presence at an occasion to celebrate the Chinese military inappropriate.

"Since taking office, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has challenged China's bottom line on issues of history and the Diaoyu Islands with no sense of remorse," Li said.

China also did not invite Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force to a fleet review in 2009 to commemorate the navy's 60th anniversary.

Reuters contributed to this story.

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