BEIJING: Chinese President Xi Jinping lauded his country’s position as a major world power as Beijing marked the 70th anniversary of victory over Japan with a giant show of strength in Tiananmen Square.
Speaking on the Tiananmen Rostrum where Mao Zedong declared the formation of the People’s Republic in 1949, Xi said “total victory” over Japan “restored China’s status as a major country in the world”.
Major world leaders stayed away from the display of military might, with disquiet growing over China’s increasing willingness to throw its weight around in territorial disputes.
The parade comes as the Chinese navy pushes further away from domestic shores, challenging US dominance, with five of its vessels spotted in the Bering Sea for the first time, according to the Pentagon. After a 70-gun salute thousands of troops -- including a detachment from Russia, whose President Vladimir Putin was the highest-profile foreign guest -- marched in formation through the square, with tanks and missiles following and a flypast by around 200 aircraft in blue skies overhead.
Xi said that Beijing would “not seek hegemony”. China’s military is the largest in the world.
Beijing officially calls the conflict the Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and World Anti-Fascist War, and regularly criticises Tokyo for what it says is insufficient contrition over wartime atrocities.
But it has repeatedly insisted the parade was not aimed at any particular country, including Japan.
“The unyielding Chinese people fought gallantly and finally won total victory against the Japanese militarist aggressors, thus preserving China’s 5,000-year-old civilisation and upholding the cause of peace,” Xi said.
He described the conflict as “a decisive battle between justice and evil, between light and darkness”.
The equipment on show for the first time included DF-21D missiles, an anti-ship ballistic missile seen as a “carrier-killer” that could alter the balance of power with the US in the Pacific Ocean.
A commentator on Chinese television described the weapon as a “trump card”.
Under Xi, Beijing is moving farther away from former leader Deng Xiaoping’s dictum to “hide one’s capabilities, bide one’s time” and is becoming more willing to take harder lines, both externally and against domestic opponents.
Decades of double-digit budget increases have transformed the military, giving Beijing the confidence to push a programme of artificial island building in the South China Sea and vigorously proclaim its sovereignty over disputed outcrops controlled by Japan.
John Delury, an expert on China at Yonsei University in Seoul, told AFP the limited international guest list was because “it’s a very nationalistic and militaristic event”.
“Across Asia and certainly in the United States there are all these concerns about the hard power side of China’s rise,” he said.
Putin was given a prominent position next to Xi on the rostrum, as were ranks of former Chinese leaders, including Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao.
Other guests included South Korea’s Park Geun-Hye, Jacob Zuma of South Africa, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and leaders of Kazakhstan and Venezuela. — AFP