China parade sends, and blocks, many messages

Kettlemag, World, China, WWII Parade, Tom Deacon
Written by Tom-Deacon

On the 3rd of September, Chinese President Xi Jinping stood atop Tiananmen Gate as a vast military parade marched past. Over 12,000 soldiers were accompanied by heavy weaponry and hundreds of aircraft. The countless lines of perfectly timed soldiers strolled under an unusually clear Beijing sky, as millions watched across the country through state television.

China proudly declared that the parade was to promote peace. Yet it was an orchestrated message speaking to China’s global rivals and the Chinese people.

America wary of the new club member

China’s main military rival is America. Although the American defence budget of $581 billion dwarves China’s $129 billion, they are closely matched in other military areas. They have over 900,00 more personnel than the American military. China still has the second highest defence budget in the world, funded by its decades of growth. America has long been concerned with China’s growth over the last 30 years, and many in the establishment worry about it’s long term goals. In 1980 its world output was less than 2.3%. Whereas today it is 17%, one percent higher than America. This rapid growth has allowed China to join the world superpower club. America is wary of this, and would question the parade being one of peace.

As the parade took place, five Chinese navy ships were spotted in the Bering Sea, off the coast of Alaska. Although they were sailing through international waters, it signals a new shift in their approach. Speaking in the Financial Times, Ian Storey, a security expert at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore said it was “an astonishing and unexpected development.”

Japan feels threatened?

Although a war between the two largest defence spenders is unlikely, the Chinese parade was also a message to America’s closest ally in the region, Japan. Both countries been involved in a long dispute regarding islands in the East China Sea. Although their total area is only about 7 square kilometres, both fiercely claim them as their own. They offer economic benefits, such as being close to vital shipping lanes, and strategic benefits. The parade provided a chance to show Japan and America the arsenal China has available to protect what they see as their own interests. They displayed many weapons for the first time, including the anti-ship “carrier killer” missile Dongfeng-21D. Tellingly the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, refused to attend China’s Victory Day parade. Japanese media said it was in protest to China’s territorial demands in the regional waters. Increased tension in the region has also been a result of Abe’s commitment to increasing Japan’s military capability. Committed to pacifism since the Second World War, Abe has passed several laws meaning Japan could send soldiers on missions overseas. The Victory Day parade was a stern warning to Abe’s military ambitions.

Domestic display of power and control

The parade was equally a message to the people of China. Xi Jinping has overseen many anti-corruption measures since becoming President of the People’s Republic, and this parade could be seen as a further attempt to solidify his power. Traditionally the only Chinese military parade is held on October the 1st, National Day. Combined with this being Jinping’s first military parade since taking office in 2012 describes how the parade is a clear signal to those in power who distrust him. Whilst the military might on display may have been a show of strength internationally, the domestic censorship demonstrated control in China itself. From the 1st till the 5th of September the authorities banned all entertainment shows, replacing them with anti-Japanese war dramas and documentaries. Weibo, a Chinese Twitter, faced increased censorship. According to Weiboscope, a Hong Kong based organisation that monitors Weibo censorship, 10 out of every 10,000 posts on the day of the parade were denied. This is well above the average and it was twice as many as the day before.

China is perfectly entitled to display its military might with a parade. Although out of fashion in most Western countries, it is hard not to be impressed by the size and discipline of the Chinese army. However Xi Jinping used the might of the army to display his increasing consolidation of power, both internationally and domestically. As America grapples with continued conflict in the Middle East, the talk of a ‘Pacific shift’ in its interests has been delayed. Combined with the vast growth of the Chinese economy (despite any recent stalls) has meant China is now the dominant regional force. Xi Jinping wants his country to be taken seriously on the world stage, and his parade is a loud and impressive statement.