In the days before China held a massive parade to celebrate the 70th anniversary of its World War II victory over Japan, factories were closed and barbecues banned to make sure the sky was clear when observers craned their heads to watch planes forming a 70 in the sky. An army of monkeys and falcons were deployed to make sure no birds ruined the view. Pigeons were banned from Beijing for a single day. Generals have been practicing so they will be able to stand perfectly straight, and Chinese residents have been barred from watching any entertaining shows on TV. The state-run film archive restored 800 films from WWII. An ice-cream company started selling ice cream shaped like General Hideki Tojo, the prime minister of Japan during WWII who was hanged in 1948. The ice cream comes in flavors like blueberry, tiramisu, and mocha. One person on Weibo this week wondered, “Doesn’t the thought of putting an evil man’s head in your mouth make you feel sick?” Another noticed that the treat also sort of looks like Gandhi.
When the parade finally happened on Thursday, it looked like an inventory checklist of Chinese military might — shown for the world’s benefit — although perhaps tarted up a bit for patriotic purposes. Two hundred jets flew overhead, spitting out smoke Roy G. Biv–style, while 12,000 troops walked the streets. Over Tiananmen Square, 70,000 doves floated above the crowd. Drones and tanks were marched in a parade like flotsam from a incredibly violent parade float, while Chinese president Xi Jinping, Russian president Vladimir Putin, and alleged war criminal and Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir watched. Western leaders and representatives from Japan did not show up — “wary, perhaps,” as the Washington Post points out, “of being present at an event that could demonize their partner Japan or of being photographed watching tanks rolling through Tiananmen Square.” U.S.’s ambassador to China, Max Baucus, did attend.
One 27-year-old from Beijing told CNN, “Watching the parade makes me very nervous and very happy too.” That was the intended effect, although the nerve-racking response was perhaps intended most for the international community, especially Japan, that declined to attend the spectacle. One attendee told Time, “So cool. Nobody can boss us around now.”
After the hundreds of pieces of military equipment were flown over or rolled past the attending masses, Xi Jinping announced that he planned to reduce the 2.3 million-strong army by 300,000. Making such an announcement so soon after such an ostentatious military display might underline the fact that this was less a show that China was “loyally committed to its sacred duty of defending the security of the motherland and the peaceful life of the people, and loyally committed to the sacred duty of safeguarding world peace,” as the president noted, and more a sign that the largest military in the world was ready to invest resources elsewhere — in drones and destroyers and missiles and stealth fighters, the type of military power preferred by the U.S., which invests more money in its military than any country in the world. Also, China will still have 2 million troops.
“War is like a mirror,” Xi said. “Looking at it helps us better understand the value of peace. China will remain committed to peaceful development. We Chinese love peace.”
Meanwhile, off in the Bering Sea, not too far from where President Obama would soon make the first presidential visit north of the Arctic Circle, the United States saw five Chinese naval ships sailing in international waters. They weren’t doing anything unlawful, and China said the ships were taking part in routine military exercises. A Pentagon official told the New York Times, “I wouldn’t call this something we are very worried about.”
An adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies told The Wall Street Journal, “We better get used to it. The Chinese navy is taking on more and more of an expeditionary character … the Chinese navy is going global.”