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China's show of force

September 3, 2015

Beijing has hosted a spectacular military show marking 70 years since the end of the Second World War. The parade comes amid tensions in the region over China's military assertiveness.

China Militär Parade Peking Weltkrieg Japan
Image: Reuters

President Xi Jinping's armed forces put on a show of force on Thursday, with marching troops and nuclear-capable missiles on display at Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

Speaking ahead of the parade, Xi announced his country would "not seek hegemony" in the world and that Beijing was planning to reduce its army by 300,000 troops to make it more efficient. The People's Liberation Army currently has 2.3 million soldiers.

"The experience of war makes people value peace even more," Xi said, adding that "China will never seek to expand and will never inflict the tragedies it suffered in the past upon others."

Victory over Japan

Thursday's parade marked 70 years after Japan formally surrendered on the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. Beijing remembers the day as the end of the "Chinese People's War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression and the World Anti-Fascist War."

Addressing the gathering, Xi said China's "total victory" over Tokyo in World War II reestablished it as a "major country." The Chinese president described the conflict as "a decisive battle between justice and evil, between light and darkness" and said his people fought gallantly against "Japanese militarist aggressors, thus preserving China's 5,000-year-old civilization and upholding the cause of peace."

More than 12,000 soldiers marched past President Xi. Almost 1,000 foreign soldiers, including Russian troops, also participated in the ceremony.

The parade showcased the range of ballistic missiles, tanks and armored vehicles - many never in public before - in China's possession, while advanced fighter jets and bombers flew overhead.

Chinesisches Kriegsgerät SU-35 Kampfflugzeug
The Chinese SU-35 is expected to be on display on ThursdayImage: Getty Images/AFP/J. Eisele

Xi's most eminent guest was Russian President Vladimir Putin, who invited his Chinese counterpart for the victory day parade in Moscow earlier this year. Xi's South Korean counterpart Park Geun-Hye, Jacob Zuma of South Africa and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon were also in attendance.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, also joined.

Major Western countries, including the USA and members of the European Union were represented by their embassies in Beijing. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was also present at the ceremony.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was not at the event and did not comment on the parade itself.

A display of power

China's show of force comes as it tries to increase its influence in the South China Sea, where it is building artificial islands and military facilities. Beijing's growing military assertiveness in the area has caused major disputes with countries such as Japan.

"A military parade is an important test of training levels, and also a sign showing the military's ability to wage war and shows the modernization level of the armed forces," Qu Rui, a senior officer overseeing the parade told journalists.

However, those viewing the event as an aggressive gesture were representing "a mentality that is not so bright," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a press briefing. "The Chinese troops are troops for peace... The stronger this kind of force grows, the more guarantees it will be able to provide for world peace," she added.

Public not allowed

Normal citizens in China were unable to watch the parade except on television because of heavy security measures in the event area on Thursday. A curfew was imposed on neighborhoods around Tiananmen Square, while 850,000 "helpers" were to keep watch and report anything that was amiss.

Residents living near the parade area were forbidden to go to their balconies or invite guests. They were also warned to not look out of their windows and told to watch the parade's live broadcast on television instead.

Authorities also closed city roads close to the square, suspended public bus services and sealed subway stops.

mg/kms (AP, AFP, Reuters)