China appears to be planning to conduct a military parade in Beijing on Sept. 3 to mark the 70th anniversary of what it calls Victory over Japan Day. Although Beijing has not made any official announcements, local media reports suggest preparations are underway.
Platform for Prestige
After a long lull amid social upheaval caused in part by the Cultural Revolution, the practice of conducting military parades in the Chinese capital was revived on Oct. 1, 1984, to commemorate the 35th anniversary of National Day, the national foundation day.
Although Hu Yaobang was the Chinese Communist Party’s highest-ranking official at the time, the parade was reviewed by Deng Xiaoping, chairman of the party’s Central Military Commission, signaling at home and abroad that Deng was the country’s real leader.
The next military parade in Beijing was held on the 50th anniversary of China’s foundation day in 1999. This time, it was reviewed by Jiang Zemin, who was serving concurrently as general secretary of the party, chairman of the military commission and president of the country. The parade was a way of indicating that Jiang had taken the reins from Deng, who had died two years earlier.
The 60th anniversary parade, in 2009, was reviewed by Hu Jintao, who held the same three positions that Jiang did.
It would be natural to assume that the next parade will be held on Oct. 1, 2019. But the administration of President Xi Jinping appears to have decided to opt instead for Sept. 3 this year. Further setting the parade apart from its predecessors are reports that the leadership will invite foreign leaders to the event for the first time ever.
The decision was undoubtedly politically motivated, and the People’s Daily — the Communist Party’s official mouthpiece — offered clues as to what motivated Beijing to break precedent. In an article on its website, the paper said the parade will serve four purposes: demonstrate China’s military might; make Japan tremble and show the world China’s resolve to protect the postwar global order; heighten national pride by showing the military to the people of China and unifying them in their faith in the country; and demonstrate to “corrupt elements” that the party and the people — the “hilt of the nation’s sword” — maintain a firm grip on the military.
Because the People’s Daily positions itself as the “throat and tongue” of the Communist Party, the expression “making Japan tremble” is nothing but a parroting of the Xi administration’s words.
Although the words constitute a threat against Japan, it is uncertain how serious Beijing is being when it says it will “make Japan tremble”. It may be worth noting that the article was carried on the People’s Daily website rather than in the paper itself. Perhaps the expression was used to justify the decision to move up the date of the military parade.
As mentioned earlier, military parades in Beijing have typically been used as a vehicle for boosting the prestige of the top leaders. More specifically, they have been aimed at demonstrating at home and abroad that the leaders had full control of the military.
It is not a stretch, then, to think that Xi decided to speed up the schedule because he is keen to quickly build up his prestige. In other words, he is trying to use Japan to reinforce his power base.
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