First ever Chinese Army Day parade sends message, despite Trump tweets

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A massive military parade through China’s desert overseen by its military chief and president, Xi Jinping, was lauded as a “first” in blanket coverage across Chinese state media.

Official social media pumped out images of 12,000 military service personnel in combat fatigues marching to a backdrop of tanks, combat helicopters, stealth fighter jets and nuclear missiles.

Mr Xi said China’s army had the capability to “defeat all invading enemies”, and safeguard national sovereignty, security and “development interests”.

The first military parade staged to celebrate Army Day, on August 1, was planned months ago for the 90th anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army.

People's Liberation Army troops march past a range of military vehicles at the parade, the first of its kind to mark ...People’s Liberation Army troops march past a range of military vehicles at the parade, the first of its kind to mark Army Day. Photo: Xinhua via AP

But as it unfolded on Sunday, Chinese government social media accounts appeared to become aware of the potential for misinterpretation.

The blanket television coverage of 600 military hardware items, half displayed publicly for the first time, came hours after US President Donald Trump had tweeted in anger at China, in the wake of North Korea’s second intercontinental ballistic missile test.

China’s defence ministry was quoted late in the afternoon on Twitter (not visible to Chinese internet users) clarifying: “Military parade planned, not related to surrounding situation.”

People's Liberation Army troops perform a flag-raising ceremony during the parade.People’s Liberation Army troops perform a flag-raising ceremony during the parade. Photo: Xinhua via AP

The 90th anniversary falls in the lead-up to the 19th Party Congress, a significant five-yearly meeting of the Communist Party, where Mr Xi is expected to tighten his grip on power.

He has directed structural reform of the PLA, the world’s largest standing army with 2 million service personnel, by cutting back army numbers by 300,000 and boosting the navy and cyber defence units.

Chinese President Xi Jinping  inspects the parade.Chinese President Xi Jinping inspects the parade. Photo: Xinhua via AP

Among the items on show were:

  • China’s maritime combat group, which “takes the lead in operations such as landing and seizure of islands”, the official CCTV broadcaster tweeted.
  • YJ-83K air-to-ship missile displayed for the first time.
  • Shenyang J-16 fighter: shown for the first time, it is designed for naval use to attack ships from beyond visual range, based on the Russian Sukhoi-30 MKK.
  • J-20 fighter jet, China’s stealth fighter, which went into service in March and rivals the United States’ F-22 and F-35.
  • DF-31AG intercontinental ballistic missile, a mobile unit with 11,000-kilometre range. Can carry five nuclear warheads.
  • DF-26 ballistic missile, capable of carrying nuclear warheads for “long-range precise strike to fixed targets on land and large-scale moving targets on water … our new ‘killer’ weapons”, reported China’s People’s Daily.

A new type of radar interference vehicle and new type of communication interference vehicle were also showcased.

“The world is not peaceful, and peace needs to be safeguarded. Today, more than any time in history, we are closer to the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, and need to build a strong army,” Mr Xi told the parade at the remote Zhurihe military base in the autonomous region of Inner Mongolia.

State news agency Xinhua noted: “Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping also inspected troops in the field at key moments in history.”

The comparison between Mr Xi and two of China’s pivotal former leaders, Mao and Deng, was made repeatedly last week, after Mr Xi told the party’s top officials that China had reached an historic turning point.

By Kirsty Needham
Sydney Morning Herald

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