China marked the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II with a dazzling parade before the historic Tiananmen Square that showcased its military firepower on an unprecedented scale, complete with fighter jets roaring overhead and some 12,000 marching troops.
President Xi Jinping, who yesterday presided over his first military parade since he took office in 2012, also unexpectedly announced that he would cut 300,000 troops from China's 2.3 million-strong military. He did not give further details although the Defence Ministry said that the cuts should be complete by end-2017.
"China will remain committed to peaceful development. We Chinese love peace. No matter how much stronger it may become, China will never seek hegemony or expansion," he said in an address to thousands of flag-waving spectators. "It will never inflict its past suffering on any other nation."
Beneath clear blue skies that followed weeks of forced shutdown of more than 12,000 factories to keep the capital's notorious smog away, hundreds of ballistic missiles, tanks, amphibious assault vehicles, drones and other military equipment rumbled past the gathered leaders, veterans and guests.
Among the weapons China unveiled for the first time during the 90-minute spectacle was an anti-ship ballistic missile, the DF-21D, also dubbed the "carrier-killer" for its reported ability to destroy an aircraft carrier with one hit.
Several intercontinental ballistic missiles such as the DF-5B and the DF-31A, as well as the DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile, were also paraded.
But amid unease that the parade was a display of nationalism as China grows more assertive in its territorial claims, major Western leaders shunned the event, the first time China has commemorated the end of the war with a parade. There was also concern that the parade was aimed at shaming Japan, now a close ally of the West.
Britain, France and Australia sent government ministers while the United States was among nations represented by diplomats.
The leaders of Japan and India, which have territorial spats with China, skipped the event. Half of Asean also failed to send top-level representatives, likely reflecting tensions over sovereignty disputes in the South China Sea.
But some 30 foreign leaders such as Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Park Geun Hye of South Korea attended the parade, with 1,000 foreign troops also taking part.
Singapore was represented by former deputy prime minister Wong Kan Seng. The Singapore Armed Forces also sent a four-man observer delegation to the event.
Former Chinese leaders who attended the parade included former president Jiang Zemin and his successor Hu Jintao. Mr Jiang's rare public appearance came amid rumours of infighting in the ruling Communist Party. Former premiers Wen Jiabao, Zhu Rongji and Li Peng were also present.
Experts say the impressive show of military might is likely Bejing's attempt to show a resurgent China and widen its sphere of influence.
Said S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies senior fellow Oh Ei Sun: "It's a form of posturing... But the display of some of its naval missiles, however, could be China's sign to Asean countries (that have maritime disputes with it) not to mess with China."