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China @70: Why National Day military parade in Beijing today matters

The celebrations will be an affirmation of national pride. President Xi Jinping has repeatedly articulated a vision of national rejuvenation and China’s economic transformation into a developed country.

Written by Sowmiya Ashok | Beijing | Updated: October 1, 2019 5:51:15 pm
China@70: Why National Day military parade in Beijing today matters At Tiananmen Square, Beijing, on Monday. (Reuters Photo)

Tuesday, October 1, marks the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, which Beijing will mark with the “biggest ever” celebrations and a “joyful atmosphere”.

The celebrations will be an affirmation of national pride. President Xi Jinping has repeatedly articulated a vision of national rejuvenation and China’s economic transformation into a developed country.

Beijing has been transformed into a sea of red. Red flags have been lined atop buildings, and red lanterns and banners with the logo of the 70th anniversary have been fastened across streets and draped over foot overbridges. The celebrations, which will go on through the entire day and night, will include a military and civilian parade. Close to 300,000 people took part in rehearsals for the parade, which included performances and a fireworks display.

Military might on display

The parade, on Chang’an Avenue cutting through the heart of Beijing, will display some of China’s most advanced weapons systems for the first time, with a focus reportedly on weapons developed since Xi came to power in 2012. The parade — the 18th of its kind and the “biggest ever”, according to the organisers — will continue for 80 minutes, and will involve 15,000 personnel of the People’s Liberation Army, the People’s Armed Forces, as well as China’s militia and reserve service.

Fifteen units will march down the Avenue, and 32 units displaying 580 weapons and equipment will show China’s “prowess” in land, sea combat, air and missile defence, informational operations, unmanned tasks, logistic support and strategic strikes, according to the Office of the Parade Leading Group.

Also, 160 fighter jets, bombers, early warning and control aircraft, and attack helicopters in 12 units will display the country’s air power, a senior official from the Central Military Commissioner’s Joint Staff Department, said at a press conference last week.

Chang’an Avenue will be locked down, and only a handpicked audience will witness the parade. Intensive rehearsals have led to early closures of subway stations in central Beijing over the past three weekends. The city’s residents have spotted tanks rolling down the roads, and there has been speculation that the machines have been parked at the heavily boarded Beijing Workers’ Stadium.

Some video clips on social media have shown several types of aircraft, apparently rehearsing. The South China Morning Post reported that KJ-2000 airborne early warning and control aircraft and J-10 and J-11B fighters have taken part in rehearsals over the countryside surrounding the capital.

The SCMP report also quoted an unnamed military insider as saying that China’s first stealth fighter jet, the J-20, had been “rehearsing over the western suburbs of the capital since April”.

The Defense Ministry spokesperson has underlined that China has “no intentions to flex its muscles” through the parade. “Some people are fond of playing up the Chinese military’s development. In their mind, there exists a weird logic: If the Chinese military displays its weapons, then it’s a ‘show of force’, and if it doesn’t, then it ‘lacks transparency’,” he told reporters.

But an editorial in the state-run China Daily said: “The parade will show people that China is no longer the ‘sick man of Asia’. It has the ability to stand up for itself should the need arise. It will show the world that the Chinese nation has the means to safeguard its rejuvenation.”

President Xi’s show

The 70th National Day celebrations carry an important message on the way in which Xi is perceived within China and outside. Over the last several months, state-run People’s Daily has published the President’s quotes above articles on its front pages, and there have been reports that journalists in state media will be expected to take part in pilot tests to assess their loyalty to Xi.

Former SCMP editor Wang Xiangwei wrote in an opinion piece recently: “It goes without saying that the People’s Republic has much to celebrate on its 70th anniversary… The occasion will also be Xi’s show as the celebration aims at further elevating his political authority and stature. He is already described as the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong, founder of the People’s Republic.”

Chen Dingding, associate dean and professor at the Institute for Silk Road Studies in 21st Century told The Indian Express: “After four decades of rapid development, China is now the second largest economy but it is still a developing country with large population and myriad problems. Meanwhile, China is a responsible actor in the international community, playing a significant role in global governance. In the near future, the main issues for the government is to explore a sustainable way of maintaining economic growth and promoting people’s welfare.”

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Celebrations and concerns

The grandest ever National Day celebrations come at a time of multiple challenges for China. The turbo-charged growth of the past decades has slowed in recent years, and the prolonged trade war with the United States has hurt the economy. In August, China saw industrial output grow at its slowest pace since 2002, and soon afterward, Premier Li Keqiang said it wouldn’t be easy for the country to sustain growth rates above 6%.

“We are in the face of the conflict between economy growth and sustainable development, pressure from trade disputes with the US, and other societal issues such as aging population, urbanisation, etc,” Prof Chen said when asked to highlight the challenges before the country.

A massive shortage of pork, the nation’s staple meat, has dampened spirits for a few months now, and officials have been worried it would ruin the “happy and peaceful atmosphere” required during National Day. A sweeping epidemic of African swine fever has left 40% of China’s pigs dead or culled, and pork prices have risen over 50% compared to last year. Vice Premier Hu Chunhua warned last month that rising prices would “seriously affect the lives of urban and rural residents, especially low-income people, and affect the joyful atmosphere…”.

Beyond the borders of the mainland, the violent anti-government protests in Hong Kong present a formidable challenge. A possible intensification of the police crackdown has probably been held in check due to China’s concerns over its international image ahead of the National Day celebrations.

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