x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Fighter jets, young paraders mark China's 60 years

There were more participants than spectators at invitation-only anniversary parades in Beijing.

BEIJING // China marked the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic with gusto yesterday, holding a military parade and vast civilian procession that took over the capital. The country displayed some of its newest tanks, armoured vehicles, missiles and fighter jets in a military parade, but also showed a lighter - but equally well-disciplined - side when tens of thousands of young people in colourful costumes paraded up Beijing's main avenue.

Under bright sunshine that indicated China's efforts to artificially disperse the clouds had proved successful, events began with 60 cannon blasts - one for each year of communist rule. Meanwhile, an honour guard carried the Chinese flag across Tiananmen Square before it was raised beside Chang'an Avenue. The Chinese president, Hu Jintao, wearing a Chinese-style suit instead of the western dress he usually favours, was driven up and down the thoroughfare in a specially built six-metre US$430,000 (Dh1.6 million) Red Flag limousine.

Travelling east as he inspected the military, he called out "Salute comrades," to which the reply was: "Hail to the chief." He also said "Thanks for your hard work," to which the military responded with: "Serve the people." On the return journey he smiled and waved to the crowds. Flanked by his predecessor Jiang Zemin, Mr Hu gave a speech in which he said "the diligent and talented Chinese people had united as one".

He went on to hail "a modern, open and future-orientated China" which, he said, still aimed to achieve "unification", a reference to China's demands on Taiwan. "Nothing but socialism can shape China," Mr Hu said, speaking from the spot where Mao Zedong had announced the formation of the People's Republic of China 60 years earlier. "Nothing but reform and opening up can ... help China improve." The military parade included 14 infantry formations, among them one of female militia in bright pink uniforms.

Previous parades had included more personnel, but the reduction in the number of divisions was made up for by a larger group of tanks, armoured vehicles and lorries carrying missiles, including nuclear warheads, and unmanned aerial vehicles. This was designed to reflect the transformation of the People's Liberation Army into a more hi-tech, modern force less dependent on simple manpower. There were also 12 air force formations, including trainer aircraft flown by female pilots, reconnaissance planes and helicopters.

As the military parade ended, it was followed up Chang'an Avenue by a mass civilian procession consisting of dozens of groups of mainly children and young people, most in colour co-ordinated costumes. Among the themes represented by sections of the parade were "reform and opening up", the "development of science" and "beautiful China", while one group of marchers showcased the various costumes of China's dozens of minorities.

Thanks to months of rehearsals, the young paraders were almost as millimetre-perfect as their military counterparts. Floats accompanying the marchers highlighted everything from Chinese-built cars to renewable energy, satellites and the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Portraits of former Chinese leaders Mao, Deng Xiaoping and Mr Jiang were paraded along the streets, as was one of Mr Hu. Two floats carried socialist-realist sculptures that struck a slightly different tone to the otherwise largely technology, reform and culture-themed parade. Doves and balloons were released as the civilian procession drew to a close.

English-language parade commentators on China Radio International made frequent reference to natural disasters the country had faced in recent times, such as the earthquake in Sichuan province in May last year in which tens of thousands were killed. However, they did not refer to July's clashes between Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese that claimed dozens of lives, claiming instead that the country's 56 ethnic groups had "demonstrated the true definition of harmony" for the past six decades.

The commentary repeatedly emphasised China's policy of "socialism with Chinese characteristics" and discussion programmes after the parades insisted that the military display did not indicate China was adopting a more belligerent tone internationally, despite recent heavy defence spending increases. While about 200,000 people took part in the parades, the number of children, officials and military personnel who watched them in person was much smaller. Only those with invitations could attend and most Beijing residents heeded advice to stay at home, as large parts of the city were closed to traffic and subways shut.

Among the Beijing residents able to see yesterday's parades was Cunyu Wu, who works for a foundation. "To see the people's parade, particularly in the development of China in the last 30 years [since reforms began], it's great," he said. "They have made great achievements. Particularly [in the floats] from different provinces, you could see the different cultures - it's gorgeous." After a gap of several hours, a separate entertainment programme took place in the evening in Tiananmen Square. There was dancing and a spectacular fireworks display that was said to be twice as long as that held for last year's Beijing Olympics.

dbardsley@thenational.ae