China is set to stage its largest military parade ever to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Communist Party coming to power. But while President Xi Jinping will use the occasion to reassert his position, he faces headwinds on multiple fronts.
Beijing (dpa) – On October 1, more than 15,000 troops and 580 sets of military equipment will roll down Beijing's historic Chang'An Avenue, while more than 160 military aircraft will whiz through the air above.
The military parade, China's largest to date, will mark the 70th anniversary since Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People's Republic of China after winning a civil war against the nationalists, who retreated to Taiwan.
This time around, the central figure in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square will be President Xi Jinping, China’s most powerful leader since Mao.
Xi, who has cleared the way for himself to rule indefinitely, is expected to use the occasion to cement his power.
As chairman of the Central Military Commission, the country’s top military body, Xi will inspect more senior commanders during the parade than any communist leader in history, said Cai Zhijun, deputy director of the Military Parade Leadership Office of the State Council.
Since coming to power in 2013, Xi has consolidated his position by surrounding himself with allies and removing some of his rivals through an anti-corruption drive. He has also bolstered Beijing’s control over local governments and the economy, reversing a trend started by his predecessors Deng Xiaoping and Hu Jintao, who had encouraged a more open market economy.
"Xi is returning the party to the fore by rebuilding a centralized, hierarchical system around himself as core leader," wrote researchers Nis Gruenberg and Katja Drinhausen from the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Berlin.
"Instead of dismantling the state apparatus, Xi’s goal is to make it more efficient and to make it serve the party’s agenda," they added.
Xi will use the parade to convey messages on multiple levels about how far the country has come under the Communist Party. For the Chinese people, the main difference between life today and 70 years ago is economic prosperity, said Zhu Lijia, a professor of public management at the Chinese Academy of Governance.
To international audiences, Beijing will showcase itself as a superpower. The message, according to Zhu: "Seventy years ago we were a very weak country, but today we are a great power."
But behind the scenes of this massive show, Beijing has been working to contain crises related to the trade war with the United States, protests in Hong Kong and a crackdown on ethnic Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, which are all hanging like clouds above Xi's parade.
"Over the past fortnight, we have seen that the central government has made efforts in every way," said independent analyst Wu Qiang. "They don't want these topics interfering with the anniversary events."
When it comes to the year-long trade war that has faced several failed negotiation attempts, Washington and Beijing appear to have agreed a ceasefire until after the parade.
US President Donald Trump delayed until mid-October a planned tariff hike on 250 billion dollars’ worth of Chinese imports that had been scheduled to go into effect on October 1.
Trump tweeted that he had made the decision at the request of Chinese Vice Premier Liu He "and due to the fact that the People's Republic of China will be celebrating their 70th Anniversary on October 1."
Both Beijing and Washington made other "gestures of goodwill" in recent weeks, ahead of the next round of negotiations planned for October.
But Trump on Tuesday blasted China’s economic policies in front of the UN General Assembly in New York, raising further questions about the talks’ odds of success.
On the subject of the Hong Kong protests, Beijing also appears to have made some concessions. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam earlier this month announced the formal withdrawal of a controversial extradition bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to stand trial in mainland China.
Hong Kong residents have taken the streets since June to protest the bill, but Lam only formally withdrew the legislation in early September. Around the same time, China’s State Council also softened its stance toward Hong Kong residents, drawing a line between violent "mobs" and peaceful protesters.
As things stand, Beijing is unlikely to intervene militarily - as has been feared - to quash the ongoing protests in the semi-autonomous city. But authorities are gearing up for massive demonstrations in Hong Kong on October 1.
The Chinese government is also sensitive about international criticism against its mass internment of ethnic Muslims, including Uighurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Huis and other minorities, in its western Xinjiang region.
The US and more than 30 other countries condemned China’s "horrific campaign of repression" against its ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, in a statement issued Tuesday on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry retorted the position was "slander" and represented interference in China’s internal affairs.