AS MILITARY PAGEANTS go, multinational parades of warships deliver quite a complex message. Over a dozen countries—ranging from friends to overt rivals—sent naval vessels to the eastern Chinese city of Qingdao on April 23rd. There they steamed past a destroyer carrying China’s commander-in-chief, President Xi Jinping, in honour of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army Navy.

Paint gleaming and brass fittings buffed to a hospital shine, there were frigates from near-allies such as Russia, and destroyers from almost-foes like India. Their mission was friendship and diplomacy. But these were heavily armed peace envoys, warily visiting a China whose emergence as an ocean-going nation is shaking Asia, and may one day change the world. Visitors involved in territorial disputes with China, including Japan and Vietnam, sent ships bristling with advanced weaponry. America sent no ships at all.

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