Beijing (AsiaNews) – China’s impressive military parade in Beijing to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the war against Japan gave Chinese President Xi Jinping an opportunity to show off his and China’s power, this according to East Asia experts and analysts.
The ceremony also gave Xi a chance to drawn attention away from China’s economic and environmental woes, like its plunging stock market and exploding chemical warehouses (Tianjin).
For the South China Morning Post, Xi seems to have reached his goal. The president kicked off proceedings with a keynote speech announcing personnel cuts to the military and new plans for China’s armed forces.
Speaking on the Tiananmen Rostrum where Mao Zedong declared the formation of the People’s Republic in 1949, Xi said, “total victory” over Japan “restored China’s status as a major country in the world”. Yet, "The experience of war makes people value peace even more".
"Regardless of the progress of events,” he added, “China will never seek hegemony, China will never seek to expand and will never inflict the tragedies it suffered in the past upon others."
During his address, the president announced China's military personnel would be cut by a staggering 300,000 – twice the size of the British Army – turning the Peoples’ Liberation Army – currently the world's largest army with 2.3 million troops – “into a real modern army capable of winning wars," Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie said.
After a 70-gun salute, the president reviewed 12,000 battle-ready troops and military equipment in Tiananmen Square and Chang’an Avenue.
“Comrades! Greetings!” Xi shouted as he waved to lines of soldiers he was inspecting from a China-made Red Flag sedan – the same brand of vehicles all his predecessors rode during military parades.
The soldiers shouted back: “Greetings. Chief!” Xi shouted again: “Comrades, you have worked hard!” The soldiers shouted back, “Serve the People!”
The parade also provided a suitable stage for some notable local and foreign political worthies to get media coverage.
For the first time, China's first lady Peng Liyuan, 53, attended a military parade of this kind. She is widely seen as China’s most high-profile first lady since the Cultural Revolution.
Three generations of China’s presidents – Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping –also stood shoulder to shoulder at the Gate of Heavenly Peace for the first time.
Three former premiers attended – Li Peng, the butcher of Tiananmen; Zhu Rongji; and Wen Jiabao. Party elder Song Ping, 98, a secretary of former premier Zhou Enlai), made a rare appearance.
Other worlds leaders attending included South African President Jacob Zuma and Pakistan’s President Mamnoon Hussain. Another guest was Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who is wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court.
The only EU head of state or government was Czech President Milos Zeman. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was present but without any official standing.
France and Italy sent their foreign ministers, whilst the United States, Canada and Germany were represented by members of their diplomatic missions in China.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did not attend. Somewhat disappointingly, North Korea sent a low-ranking Politburo member, Choe Ryong-hae.
Today’s parade also gave Xi an opportunity to show unity at a time when the capability and loyalty of the military to the Communist Party is being questioned.
Recently, the People’s Liberation Army was shaken by investigations into several of its top brass, including Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou, who previously served as vice-chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission.
“Investigating Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou underlined our resolution to safeguard the image of the army,” party mouthpiece People’s Daily said on Tuesday. “The parade is a presentation of the improvement of the army.”
“The parade is a declaration of loyalty,” said Wang Jian, deputy political commissar of the Beijing military region and deputy commander of the parade, in People’s Daily on Sunday. “It’s an inspection of the soldiers’ loyalty and support for the party and Chairman Xi.”
Yue Gang, a retired colonel in the PLA’s General Staff Department, said the commemoration would “establish the personal authority of Xi Jinping in the army”.
This was key as Hu Jintao, Xi’s predecessor, was largely snubbed by the military during his time in office, he added.