By Nurzhanat Ametbek
China’s grand military parade in early September has captured the attention of the world. It was the country’s first parade to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the victory in the Chinese People’s War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression and the World Anti-Fascist War. It served as a vivid reminder of China’s irreplaceable contributions in the war and its inspiration to protect peace. The car in which President Xi Jinping rode (the Red Flag limousine) to inspect troops on Tiananmen Square on Thursday morning is a symbol of national pride in China in its own right.
For China this was a ‘historical event’ in that for the first time representatives from 18 countries marched throughthe Tian’an men square to celebrate a shared victory. The celebration also reminded the Chinese of their past humiliation. President Xi Jinping announced he would reduce the country’s military personnel by 300,000. Xi made the remarks during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. This piece will cover the general history of the parade, participant, special meetings like the one with President Putin, as well as the message that China sent to the world, and expert opinions of the parade.
General history of the event
The memory of war runs so deep in the mindset of the Chinese people that a military parade has become an important and popular way to boost national confidence and pride. The Chinese People’s War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression started with the September 18 incident in 1931 and lasted until 1945. It was the longest fight against fascist forces in history.
Chinese perspective, China played a decisive role in defeating the Japanese invaders, but the country’s contributions have seldom been told properly on the global stage. Chinese people have complained for decades that when people in Western countries talk about WWII, they usually refer to the battles on the European continent and have little knowledge about China’s role as the major oriental theater of the war. Chinese efforts have also been underestimated in many history textbooks.
Moreover, as it is reflected in Chinese media, Japan has not received its deserved penalty after the war, and Japan’s right-wing forces are still attempting to challenge the world order even today. Some Japanese politicians deliberately deny the country’s invasion history and spread comments that gloss over its aggressive rule. According to Zhang Ming, Vice Minister of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “the celebrations are not targeting Japan, nor the Japanese people.” Zhang continued by saying that the military parade’s aim is to “remember history, cherish the memory of China’s revolutionary martyrs, uphold peace and create the future.”
The participants reflect post-cold war mindset
About 30 heads of state and government leaders attended the parade, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Kazakstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev. The only surprising visitor was South Korea’s Park Geun-hye. She resisted American pressure to turn down the invitation, presumably in hopes of persuading China to exert some moderating influence on its capricious North Korean client.
Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, declined the invitation to attend, believing his presence could lend legitimacy to Beijing’s claims to disputed islands in the East China Sea. No other presidents or prime ministers came from democracies which fought on the same side as China during the war, specifically America and its western allies. According to Professor Selçuk Çolakoğlu, Vice President of USAK and Director of the Center for Asia-Pacific Studies, the fact that Russia and China stood side-by-side and the absence of western leaders at the commemoration shows that, in a certain sense, the cold war mindset still exists.
Since China announced its plan to hold a military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of its World War II victory, wild speculations have emerged that China’s primary purpose is to flex its muscles. The Chinese military has indeed witnessed rapid growth of its capabilities in recent years. For China, this parade is as much about the peace mission today as it is about those who fought in the past. China has become a responsible actor in the post-world order and is the largest contributor of peacekeepers among the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.
The message delivered from V-day
As Chinese media pointed out the spectacular military parade of China carries many messages, yet all of them hail from one basic point: Beijing is steadfast in pursuing peaceful developments. Xi Jingping said, “ in the interest of peace, we need to foster a keen sense of a global community of shared future. Prejudice, discrimination, hatred and war can only cause disaster and suffering, while mutual respect, equality, peaceful development and common prosperity represent the right path to take.”
One important reason to strive for keeping peace is that China learnt a bitter lesson from its 14 years of suffering under Japanese invasion, thus, peace is not something to be taken for granted. The Chinese believe peace can be secured only when one is strong enough to defend oneself. The Tian’an men parade is not meant to make any other country feel threatened; instead, they are telling the world loud and clear that China cherishes peace.
A second important reason to keep peace is that China, together with many other developing nations, has benefited from the largely peaceful international environment in the past few decades, and now the country, resolute in building a moderately prosperous society by 2020, needs a peaceful environment all the more. Mr. Xi restated China’s public commitment to peace, even as the country grows in economic and military strength.
Evaluations from experts
As Jonathan Ansfield reported, Senior Col. Zhou Bo, director of the Center for International Security Cooperation at the Ministry of National Defense, described the troop cut announced by President Xi Jinping as part of a push to improve the People’s Liberation Army – “To have it reduced means that the quality of the P.L.A. has actually increased,” he said. He reiterated the official line that the parade was part of an effort to improve military transparency and shoulder greater international responsibilities, saying the festivities should be viewed in that light instead.
Rory Medcalf, the head of the National Security College at the Australian National University in Canberra, said Xi’s decision to reduce troop levels by 300,000 was unlikely to ease regional worries about China’s growing military strength because such reductions are part of the modernization program to shift the People’s Liberation Army’s resources from traditional land forces to modern weapons.
M. Taylor Fravel, an associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is studying the Chinese military and he said the reduction shows that Mr. Xi’s plans for reorganizing the military are continuing, despite the lack of public details since those plans were declared in 2013.
Putin’s attendance at the commemorations aimed to deliver a political message that China will firmly stick to the policy of developing its comprehensive, strategic, cooperative partnership and broadening all-round pragmatic cooperation with Russia.
Prof. Selçuk Çolakoğlu said that on the basis of their rapprochement, China and Russia, in defending a multipolar world, are against the unipolarity of the US.