China defends its plans for WWII victory parade

It stays mum on foreign participants amid sensitivities surrounding event

CHINA has defended its decision to hold a large-scale World War II victory parade in September, while remaining mum on the closely watched level of foreign participation at the event.

With less than three months to go, analysts say this underscores the political sensitivities surrounding the event, which China is holding to mark the 70th anniversary of Japan's surrender in the war.

Officials yesterday said this is the first time that China is commemorating the victory with a military parade, and also the first time that foreign troops have been invited to join a parade here.

But they did not say which countries' leaders or troops will be at the Sept 3 event at Tiananmen Square, where President Xi Jinping is set to give a speech and lead a troop inspection.

"We're in the middle of arranging it," said Mr Wang Shiming, vice-head of the Communist Party's propaganda department, referring to the invitation of foreign leaders.

No countries were named, although it had been suggested that nations that were involved in the war would be invited. The officials also did not answer when asked whether Japan, which committed war atrocities against the Chinese during the war, would be invited.

The lack of commitment from foreign leaders, particularly from the West, has been linked to concerns that the parade is aimed at shaming Japan, which has become a close ally of the West.

Other countries are being careful about this for geopolitical reasons, said Dr Zhu Feng, a foreign policy expert from Nanjing University. "The parade has become about more than a commemoration of the war's end," he told The Straits Times.

But with China-Japan ties recently showing signs of a thaw, China will be careful not to aggravate its neighbour as well, noted Dr Hu Lingyuan, director of Fudan University's Centre for Japanese Studies.

He noted that despite rumours that China will hold the parade at Marco Polo Bridge, the site of the Japanese attack which triggered the war, Beijing eventually announced it would be held at Tiananmen Square, where military processions traditionally take place.

"The parade might be more low-key than people expect," he told The Straits Times. "Foreign Ministry officials are probably working hard behind the scenes to explain and communicate this to other countries."

Defending the parade, Major- General Qu Rui, deputy director of the parade steering group office, told reporters it is "an established practice in many countries to hold parades commemorating major events".

"The invitation to foreign militaries showed the wish of China and all other peoples to safeguard world peace," he said.

A commentary in the China Daily yesterday stressed that the parade should not be seen as China flexing its military muscle. "China has no intention to taunt Japan by showing off its military might, even when Japanese politicians' words and actions intensify tensions in East Asia," it said.

Maj-Gen Qu added that the Chinese military will debut its latest domestically made equipment at the parade.

China will also hold a series of commemorative events in conjunction with the anniversary, including an exhibition, an academic symposium and memorial ceremonies. It will also issue commemorative coins and stamps.

chengwee@sph.com.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2015, with the headline 'China defends its plans for WWII victory parade'. Print Edition | Subscribe