China will hold one of its biggest ever military parades on Tuesday as part of its celebrations for 70 years of Communist Party rule, and Beijing is promising to show off a host of new home-grown weaponry.
What equipment might we see on display, and why does China now have the second biggest military budget in the world?
The military parade which is part of a huge day of celebrations, will take place in Tiananmen Square in front of officials, selected members of the public, and 188 military attaches from 97 countries.
A defence ministry spokesman recently said China had no intention or need to “flex its muscles” with this display, but that the focus was on demonstrating a “peace-loving and responsible China”. Nevertheless, the sheer enormity of this parade has generated both admiration and scorn.
The Ministry of National Defence has reported that 15,000 military personnel will be taking part, including 59 different elements of the military, while 580 pieces of military equipment will roll through the streets and 160 aircraft will fly overhead.
President Xi Jinping will review troops along Chang’an Avenue – Beijing’s major thoroughfare – and afterwards a number of foot, armour and aircraft formations will pass through or over Tiananmen Square.
For the first time, a contingent from China’s 8,000-strong UN peacekeeping standby force will participate.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is clearly excited about showcasing sophisticated new weapons platforms, all of which it says are ’’already in active service. ‘’
PLA propagandists have placed particular emphasis on new missile, stealth and unmanned vehicle capabilities.
The PLA has emphasised that the parade will also ’’demonstrate new levels of innovation from the domestic defence industry, and improved strike capability.’’
The parade will seek to demonstrate China’s determination to defend its core interests, including its disputed territorial claims in the South China Sea.
For example, the missile platforms could be used to defend the new naval and air bases built on reclaimed atolls in the Spratly Islands. China, in fact, live fired anti ship ballistic missiles into the South China Sea at the end of June.
These capabilities are believed to be part of China’s Anti-Access, Area Denial (A2AD) strategy, to prevent US access to the South China Sea.
One of the big differences with Tuesday, in contrast to the last big parade in Beijing in 2015, will be an air of celebration.
The V-day parade, marking the 70th anniversary of the victory over Japan in World War Two, was an altogether solemn affair. This parade on the contrary seeks to celebrate China’s achievements in terms of defence innovation and indigenous production.
The key message is that the PLA has truly moved into a new era – Xi Jinping’s new era and that following far reaching reforms, it is well positioned to advance towards becoming a truly modernised force by 2035 and world-class force by 2049.
However, while a lavish military parade may showcase the scale of its investment, it cannot portray the PLA’s overall military capability.
China’s need to improve its military salary structuring, integrated joint logistics and training regimes are all part of the mix. In addition, China’s ambitious military reform agenda involves a comprehensive and expensive overhaul of command and force structures.
Despite the eye-catching sophistication of the weapons which will be paraded, the PLA is still many decades away from reaching military capability similar to that of the US.