Why It Matters

All eyes on China's parade

China is holding a massive military parade on Thursday in the historic Tiananmen Square to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

Even as President Xi Jinping is expected to proclaim his commitment to world peace, the high-profile showcase of the country's rapidly modernising military might has fanned unease in the region that the event is no more than an exercise in drum-beating nationalism, amid Beijing's increasing assertiveness in its territorial claims.

The parade - the first by China to mark the end of World War II - will feature some 12,000 soldiers and almost 200 of its latest aircraft and mobile ballistic missile launchers capable of delivering nuclear warheads to the continental United States.

Not surprisingly, geopolitical tensions have played out on Mr Xi's guest list, with the event straining ties between China and the US and its allies. Apart from Russian President Vladimir Putin, major Western leaders have declined to attend because of concerns that the parade is also aimed at shaming Japan, which has become a close ally of the West. Beijing says that is not its intention.

Britain, France and Australia will send government ministers, while the US is among nations that will be represented by their diplomatic envoys. As Japan and India have territorial spats with China, their prime ministers - Mr Shinzo Abe and Mr Narendra Modi respectively - will skip the event. Taiwan, which China regards as a renegade province, has asked its veterans not to attend.

Bucking the trend, President Park Geun Hye of South Korea, a key US ally, accepted the invitation.

Thursday's parade will allow Mr Xi, who took office in 2012, not only to present himself to the world as China's commander-in-chief, but also to send a strong message to the Chinese people.

People's Liberation Army generals, too, will be taking note of Mr Xi's show of strength, in the light of an anti-graft campaign that has implicated dozens of past and present leaders in their ranks.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 01, 2015, with the headline 'All eyes on China's parade'. Print Edition | Subscribe