Thursday, September 3, 2015 11:31 am
China’s President Xi Jinping announced on Thursday he would cut troop levels by 300,000 as the country held its biggest display of military might in a parade to commemorate victory over Japan in World War Two, an event shunned by most Western leaders.
China’s confidence in its armed forces and growing military assertiveness, especially in the disputed South China Sea, has rattled the region and drawn criticism from Washington.
Xi, speaking on a rostrum overlooking Beijing’s Tiananmen Square before the parade began, said China would cut by 13 percent one of the world’s biggest militaries, currently 2.3-million strong.
The Defence Ministry said the cuts would be mostly complete by the end of 2017. The move is likely part of long-mooted military rationalisation plans, which have included spending more money on high-tech weapons for the navy and air force. Troop numbers have been cut three times already since the 1980s.
“Prejudice and discrimination, hatred and war can only cause disaster and pain,” Xi said under a clear blue sky. “China will always uphold the path of peaceful development.”
He then descended to Beijing’s main thoroughfare and inspected rows of troops, riding past them in a black limousine and bellowing repeatedly: “Hello comrades, hard-working comrades!”
More than 12,000 soldiers, mostly Chinese but with contingents from Russia and elsewhere, then marched down Changan Avenue, led by veterans of World War Two carried in vehicles.
They were followed by ballistic missiles, tanks and armoured vehicles, many never seen in public before. Advanced fighter jets and bombers flew overhead in a highly choreographed spectacle that lasted around 90 minutes.
Among the weapons China unveiled for the first time was an anti-ship ballistic missile, the Dongfeng-21D, which is reportedly capable of destroying an aircraft carrier with one hit.
Also shown were several intercontinental ballistic missiles such as the DF-5B and the DF-31A as well as the DF-26 intermediate range ballistic missile, dubbed the “Guam killer” in reference to a U.S. Pacific Ocean base.
Peng Guangqian, deputy head of China’s Council for National Security Policy Studies, said the equipment on display was intended to show the combat readiness of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
“This indicates a change of the PLA training strategy; with more focus on actual combat,” Peng told the official Xinhua news agency.
China is also building two aircraft carriers that will be the same size as its sole carrier, a 60,000-tonne refurbished Soviet-era ship, according to a report on the PLA by the Defence Ministry in neighbouring, self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as its own. Chinese state media have hinted new vessels are being built.
For Xi, the parade was a welcome distraction from the country’s plunging stock markets, slowing economic growth and recent blasts at a chemical warehouse that killed at least 160 people.