Military advances and Xi Jinping’s supreme status among the themes as Beijing celebrates National Day

(SCMP) – China staged a massive military parade in Beijing on Tuesday to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic, with much of the smog-shrouded capital city under a security lockdown.

President Xi Jinping inspected over 15,000 troops, more than 160 aircraft and 580 weapon systems in a show of the country’s growing military might and his drive to modernise the People’s Liberation Army.

He also delivered a bullish eight-minute speech hailing the accomplishments of seven decades of Communist rule and pledging to achieve his vision of a “Chinese dream” of national rejuvenation and global prominence.

A show of unity

Xi presided over the ceremony in Tiananmen Square flanked by his predecessors Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, along with other retired and present party elders.

The rare appearance of Jiang and Hu – on the rostrum of the Gate of Heavenly Peace, where the country’s founding father Mao Zedong declared Communist rule on October 1, 1949 – was clearly aimed at projecting unity and solidarity in the face of daunting domestic and international challenges.

Hu had been absent from the funeral of former premier Li Peng in late July, although the ailing Jiang attended.

Former vice-president Zeng Qinghong and Song Ping, the oldest party elder in attendance, also appeared on the rostrum.

But notably, while former premier Wen Jiabao was present, his predecessor Zhu Rongji was not.

‘No force can shake China’

Dressed in a Mao suit, Xi’s nationally televised speech invoked China’s “century of humiliation” and praised the achievements of its people, saying there was no force that could stop it forging ahead.

“No force can shake the status of our great motherland, and no force can stop the Chinese people and the Chinese nation from marching forward,” he said.

“The People’s Liberation Army [PLA] will serve its purpose in safeguarding the sovereignty, security and development interests of the country, and world peace,” he said, at a time when Beijing has expanded its military footprint globally, including with its first overseas military base in Djibouti.

Xi called on the Communist Party and the country to unite and continue to fight for the realisation of what he called the “Chinese dream” – the nation’s rejuvenation.

One country, two systems

Amid escalating unrest in Hong Kong, which has plunged the city into a deepening crisis and threatened to overshadow the National Day celebrations, Xi vowed that the central government would uphold “one country, two systems”.

He said the central government would protect the long-term stability of Hong Kong and Macau, and stressed the goal of “peaceful reunification” with the self-ruling Taiwan, repeating a message frequently used by his predecessors, including Deng Xiaoping, Jiang and Hu.

The theme of one country, two systems later appeared in a National Day parade for the first time, with placards forming the words: “Hong Kong’s tomorrow will be better.”

Hong Kong Chief Executive Cheng Yuet-ngor attended the ceremony, as did 10 Hong Kong police officers involved in suppressing anti-government protests in the city.

Showing off new weapons

China’s advancement in military weaponry was on full display, with almost half of the items featured being shown to the public for the first time.

The morning’s celebrations included an 80-minute military parade – the biggest since the founding of the People’s Republic – in an apparent effort to showcase the prowess of the PLA, the world’s biggest military with 2 million personnel.

Among the weapons shown were DF series missiles, including the DF-17, a nuclear-capable glider that has the capacity to strike the US mainland, and the DF-41, which has a range of up to 15,000km, making it the world’s longest-range military missile.

Signalling Xi’s status

A 100,000-strong civilian parade featuring huge portraits of Xi and predecessors including Mao, Deng, Jiang and Hu wrapped up the morning celebration.

The procession was divided into three parts, representing three eras of the People’s Republic: the Mao era, Deng’s reform and opening up, and Xi’s era, which seeks global prominence on a par with that of the United States.

Xi appeared keen to project his supreme status in the party, reinforced since he abolished the constitutional term limit a year ago, allowing him potentially to remain leader for life.

He waved at his own portrait, unveiled alongside a sign reading “Carry out Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”.