China rolled out tanks, jets and 12,000 soldiers in the Inner Mongolian desert yesterday, as it flexed its military muscles in a massive parade to mark the 90th anniversary of the founding of the People's Liberation Army (PLA).
In an event broadcast live on state TV, President Xi Jinping, who presided over the parade in camouflage fatigues, urged the troops at the Zhurihe military training base to build an elite armed forces. "Today, we are closer to the goal of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation than at any other time in history, and we need to build a strong people's military more than at any other time in history," he said.
Mr Xi, who oversees the PLA in his role as head of the Central Military Commission, also used the occasion to provide a sober analysis of the Chinese leadership's take on regional security. "The world is not all at peace, and peace must be safeguarded," he said.
The parade by the PLA, the world's largest armed forces with more than two million soldiers, was notable in that almost half of the 600 pieces of hardware on show had never been paraded in public.
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Among these were the J-16 fighter jet, J-20 stealth fighter and the new-generation Dongfeng- 31AG intercontinental missile, whose 11,000km range means it can hit parts of the United States.
"I believe that our heroic army has the confidence and capability to defeat all invading enemies," Mr Xi said in an address from a jeep.
It was the first time China has marked Army Day, which falls on Aug 1, with a military parade since the communist revolution in 1949, said state news agency Xinhua.
600 Number of military hardware pieces on display, almost half of which had never been on parade before.
12,000 Number of troops at the parade to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the People's Liberation Army's founding.
11,000 Range in kilometres of the Dongfeng-31AG intercontinental missile. This means that it is capable of hitting parts of the United States.
In a break from previous large-scale parades usually held in Tiananmen Square, the "battlefield style" review eschewed pomp and featured troops in combat garb instead of dress uniforms.
Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said the rally did away with precision drills and military band exhibitions so as to highlight the PLA's "combat effectiveness in an actual battlefield atmosphere".
Security analyst Wang Xiangsui of China's Beihang University said the timing and location, and the comprehensive military hardware on display, were to project China's growing military might.
"It was not simply a ceremonial parade, but to show the concrete capabilities China now possesses, and is a strong response to the challenges currently facing the PLA," he told The Straits Times.
Regional security expert Li Mingjiang of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies said the display was intended to show that the reforms Mr Xi had initiated when he took office in 2012 to modernise the PLA have borne some fruit, and that the reforms continued to have his personal attention.
And while Mr Xi's speech largely focused on the PLA's achievements, Professor Li said a reference to defeating invaders seems to be directed at India.
"This may be a veiled reference to India because of the ongoing stand- off between Chinese border troops and Indian border forces in Doklam," said Prof Li.
"He was trying to send the signal to other countries with territorial or maritime disputes with China that China is determined to protect its security interests in the region."