China's military parade a sight to behold: What's there to fear?

Andy Boreham
Many of China's troops are put to work helping keep the peace in the world. More peacekeepers come from China than any of the other permanent members of the UN Security Council.
Andy Boreham
SSI ļʱ
China's military parade a sight to behold: What's there to fear?

Nuclear missiles are reviewed in a military parade celebrating the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China in Beijing on October 1.

Around 15,000 troops marched across Beijing’s Tian’anmen Square in tight formation on October 1, China’s National Day, together with nearly 600 pieces of military hardware and the buzzing of more than 160 aircraft zipping overhead. For some the parade elicited concerns, but not me.

People across China went back to work and school this week after seven days off for the annual National Day holiday, which starts with the military parade on October 1. On that date, way back in 1949, the People’s Republic of China was founded after the arduous anti-Japanese aggression war and a civil war, including success in a number of key battles like the liberation of Shanghai from the Kuomintang government.

While most people were enjoying the first day of their break, I was at work with my boss ready to cover the parade and man the fort.

On the wall, we have several TVs meant for monitoring the news, but rarely is the sound at an audible level. Things were different that day and our empty office echoed with the sound of President Xi Jinping’s speech and his inspection of the military, China Central Television’s commentary to fill in the blanks, and eventually the parade itself.

It isn’t the first time I’ve watched the National Day military parade, but it is probably the first time I’ve watched it in its entirety. I was in awe, as ever, at the synchronicity, the absolute logistical nightmare that was overcome to put on such a flawless show.

At the same time, I was monitoring different international media reaction, which was as to be expected. Pundits were worried, talking about the rise of China and the threats that brings. But China doesn’t spend as much on military as the United States, a few said, seemingly as a way to put themselves at ease.

China's military parade a sight to behold: What's there to fear?

A formation of Chinese peacekeepers marches in the parade.

On Facebook and Twitter, ordinary people had more primal fears.

“Why does China need such a huge military?” some asked. “Are they planning on taking over the world?”

As someone from a small South Pacific country with barely a military to speak of — and definitely no propensity to show off the little force we have at our disposal — I understand that Beijing’s military parade can elicit uneasy feelings.

But after living in China for a few years and getting a better and better understanding of this place and its people, I’ve come to realize why it is that people on the other side of the planet are so afraid. It’s because, to them, China and Chinese people are “the other,” an unknown and mysterious entity that they don’t understand. There are obvious reasons for that, language barriers being a huge one.

Sure, the military parade is somewhat designed to show off the country’s strength and tell the world that China is not to be taken lightly or messed around with, but more than anything it’s just to show the world how capable the country is.

China has developed in leaps and bounds, especially in the past 30 years of reform and opening-up. Hundreds of millions have been lifted from poverty, GDP has grown dramatically, and China is forging ahead in its goal to become an innovative and scientific powerhouse in the next few decades.

In actual fact, many of China’s troops are put to work helping keep the peace around the globe. The number of troops from China dedicated to UN peacekeeping missions has increased drastically over the past few years, and more peacekeepers come from China than any of the other permanent members of the Security Council.

Pretty soon my WeChat Moments was flooded with patriotic and proud posts from friends and acquaintances all over the country, as well as some who were abroad for the holiday — who, too, were watching the parade live on TV or the Internet.

Some were commenting on how handsome or pretty the armed forces were — the parade featured servicewomen led, for the first time, by two female generals — but most were just immensely proud to see their country doing so well.

Maybe those pundits overseas who were warning the world of doom and gloom might have been surprised if they looked at my WeChat Moments. Maybe they’d see all the pictures people snapped of their TV screens and their comments in Chinese, and imagine that they were filled with hate-filled rhetoric and plans to take over the world.

If they took a little longer to understand Chinese people and their aspirations, inspirations and dreams, I’m certain they’d be pleasantly surprised.

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