BEIJING: Tanks, missiles and troops in lock-step filed past Beijing’s iconic Tiananmen Square in a massive parade on Thursday commemorating Japan’s World War II defeat 70 years ago and underlining President Xi Jinping’s determination to make China the pre-eminent Asian power.
To underline China’s position that its rise is peaceful and poses no threat to neighbors, Xi pledged to cut 300,000 troops from the 2.3 million strong People’s Liberation Army, the world’s largest standing military. Helicopters zoomed overhead in an array forming the number 70.
Xi kicked off the proceedings with a speech at the iconic Tiananmen Gate in the heart of Beijing, flanked by Chinese leaders and foreign dignitaries, including Russian leader Vladimir Putin, South Korean President Park Geun-hye and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
“The experience of war makes people value peace even more,” Xi said. “Regardless of the progress of events, China will never seek hegemony, China will never seek to expand and will never inflict the tragedies it suffered in the past upon others.”
Xi then drove past the assembled troops in a Chinese-made Red Flag limousine, standing up through a sunroof with four microphones mounted in front of him, calling out “Greetings, Comrades” every few moments, before the troops started their marching.
The spectacle involved more than 12,000 troops, 500 pieces of military hardware and 200 aircraft of various types, representing what military officials say is the Chinese military’s most cutting-edge technology.
The parade is part of commemorations packaged to bolster the ruling Communist Party’s self-declared role as the driving force behind Japan’s defeat 70 years ago and savior of the nation, though historians say the rival Nationalists did most of the fighting. The events also minimize the role of the US, Britain and others.
Most leading democracies kept high-level representatives away, reflecting concerns over the parade’s anti-Japanese tone and China’s recent aggressive moves to assert territorial claims. The US sent only its ambassador to observe. In Washington, US defense department spokesman Bill Urban said that the US maintains such commemorations should be about reconciliation and that a “large military display would not appear to be consistent with this theme.”
Under Xi, who took power as party leader in late 2012, Beijing has sent ships to confront Japan’s coast guard near disputed islands in the East China Sea, blockaded Philippine island outposts and constructed whole islands from reefs, topping them with airstrips and other military infrastructure.
China usually holds lavish military parades only every 10 years to mark the anniversary of the founding of the communist People’s Republic in 1949. By holding an additional one now, Xi ensures that he’ll preside over at least two of the prestigious events during his decade-long tenure in power ending in 2023.
Parade may trigger Asian arms race
China’s grand parade is likely to trigger an arms race in its neighbourhood, an expert told TOI on Wednesday. Countries like India and Japan, which have territorial disputes with China, are likely to act quickly on the basis of Beijing’s new weapons capability and will try and match its capability, the expert noted.
“India will spend a lot more on military capabilities, I am sure. It’s already an important military power,” Zhang Yunling, director of international relations at government-run China Academy of Social Sciences, told TOI. Speaking about Japan, Zhang said, “Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe will use the parade as an argument for spending more on military.”
India is being represented by minister of state of defence, Gen (retd) V K Singh. It was invited to send its soldiers for the parade, but New Delhi decided against it.