BEIJING – The grand parade in the center of Beijing on September 3 to commemorate the end of World War II in China highlighted two contradictory narratives, both immensely important for understanding the country’s future path.
The first story is about China’s newfound strength. In the past two decades of rapid economic growth, China’s military budget has increased sharply – last year by more than 12%. By publicly displaying its latest military hardware, China’s leadership has made it clear that it will never again allow the country to suffer as it did when Japan invaded in 1937 during the Second Sino-Japanese War.
Of course, this message may not go down well among China’s neighbors. After all, many of them are already anxious about China’s beefed-up military capacity, which they view from the perspective of its far-reaching territorial and maritime claims in Asia.
Chinese President Xi Jinping did announce a reduction in the size of the military by 300,000 troops in his pre-parade speech, perhaps to reassure observers about China’s peaceful intentions in the region, and as a counterpoint to the display of missiles and tanks. Xi’s announcement could also be seen as a skillful way to announce a major budget cut – an economic measure sweetened by the patriotic symbolism of a parade celebrating China’s military might.