Agreed, but why extend the forward exhaust in the first place?
I imagine it's because it provides some IR suppression benefit.
That seems to be the logical explanation. Russians had to modify the stack top on Grigorovich frigates for exactly the same purpose.Then why not extend the rear one too? I suspect they have smoke/draft issues around the bridge and sensors, note the angled extension promoting flow towards the rear.
This image really shows how disproportionate the lateral panels are compared to the other ones. At least half a meter deep. And it's perfectly sealed so definitely electronics and stuff..
I've be inclined to think that it might be where the U/VHF radar is. China has already developed its own AESA meter-wave band radar with the JY-27A so they could potentially hide the arrays here, and only U/VHF antennas would require such depth. At the same time it's rectangular in length so if it's a radar array then it should be more "horizontally agile", which would kinda reduce the forward blind spot (forward blind spot that was already existing with the 517 on 052C/D, which was located behind the bridge) .
But that's only one of the many hypothesis around these panels, and where the Meter-wave band radar can hide (if it's even exist). The mystery around this ship gives its charm too don't you think