BEIJING (AFP) - China's unveiling of "carrier-killer" missiles and cuts in troop numbers on Thursday underlined a shift towards naval strength amid growing Pacific rivalry with the US, analysts said.
More than a dozen anti-ship ballistic missiles capable of travelling at 10 times the speed of sound were shown at a massive military parade in Beijing, with state television calling them a "trump card" in potential conflicts and "one of China's key weapons in asymmetric warfare".
For a fraction of the cost of an aircraft carrier the missile threatens to alter the balance of power in the Pacific.
The land-based DF-21D intermediate-range missile is said to be equipped with onboard terminal guidance systems that give it the ability to attack a moving target, such as a carrier group at sea.
For decades, the United States' fleet of aircraft carriers has been a key component of its ability to project power around the world, and Andrew Erickson of the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation has described the DF-21D as a "Frankenweapon" that is "potentially unpredictable and disruptive".
The missile "serve as a deterrent which requires rivals in the region to think twice about deploying aircraft carrier groups against China," James Char, an analyst at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University told AFP.
China's military parade marking 70th anniversary of the end of World War II
A fly past at China's military parade marking 70th anniversary of the end of World War II
BEIJING - China has pledged to cut 300,000 troops and reiterated its commitment to world peace, even as it staged a massive show of military might at a parade on Thursday commemorating the 70th anniversary of its World War II victory over Japan.
In his speech before the start of the parade, President Xi Jinping said China would cut the 2.3-million strong People's Liberation Army (PLA) - one of the world's biggest militaries - by 13 per cent, but he gave no timeline for the cut.
He also stressed that "no matter how much it develops, China will never seek hegemony or expansion and will never inflict its past suffering on any other nation".
Speaking on the Tiananmen Rostrum where Mao Zedong declared the formation of the People’s Republic in 1949, Xi said “total victory” over Japan “restored China’s status as a major country in the world”.
Mr Xi - who took power in 2012 - recapped the suffering brought on China and the world, and thanked those who helped China during the conflict.
"Seventy years ago today, after a long and arduous 14-year struggle, the Chinese people achieved a great victory in the War of Resistance against Japan... peace and sunshine once again illuminated the earth," he said.
He said that the conflict was "a decisive battle between good and evil, light and darkness" and that victory "safeguarded 5,000 years of Chinese development and civilisation".
Despite Mr Xi's comments on China's commitment to world peace, the massive parade on Thursday is seen by many as an event to bolster the Communist Party's leadership, and display the growing prowess of the PLA.
Many major Western leaders of countries involved in WWII, such as US President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande, declined to attend. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also skipped the parade.
Thirty heads of state attended, including presidents of Russia, South Korea, Myanmar, Pakistan, Sudan, Venezuela and Czech Republic.
Singapore's representative is former deputy prime minister Wong Kan Seng, who like other dignitaries, was personally greeted by Mr Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan before the start of the event.
After a 70-gun salute, more than 12,000 soldiers - including 1,000 foreign troops - marched down the capital's Changan Avenue, which cuts through the capital's iconic Tiananmen Square. The parade also showcased about 200 aircraft in a flypast and 500 pieces of Chinese military hardware, including the much talked-about DF-21D intermediate-range anti-ship ballistic missiles, which the US sees as a threat to its aircraft carriers.
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. State television showed Mr Jiang and Mr Xi talking as they stood at the Tiananmen Gate with other dignitaries. Mr Jiang stepped down as party chief in 2002 and state president in 2003 but remained head of the military for another year.
The event ended with the release of thousands of doves and balloon, to applause from the crowd.
The parade took place against the backdrop of a clear blue sky, a rare sight in the Chinese capital which is often cloaked in choking smog. Authorities had pulled out all stops to clean up the environment ahead of the event. Factory production and construction activities in Beijing and surrounding cities and provinces were suspended or limited from late August.
Much of central Beijing – a city of more than 21 million people – was shut down on Thursday, which was declared a public holiday.
Shops, restaurants and food markets were closed, with the start of school term delayed. Beijing’s main airport – the world’s second busiest – suspended operations for three hours.
The technology is untested but it underlines "the growing importance of China's naval forces" as Beijing seeks to project its power more widely in the air and on sea, he added.
Also on show in Beijing were longer-range weapons, prompting one commentator on Chinese state television to exclaim: "Look at this missile! It can hit Hawaii!"
China said in May that the People's Liberation Army (PLA) navy will put a greater emphasis on "open seas protection", rather than "offshore waters defence" alone.
At the same time its air force will shift focus "from territorial air defence to both defence and offence", it said.
Beijing is "very concerned with what its rivals, in particular the US naval forces, might do to it," Char added.
China has been boosting its military budget with double-digit percentage increases for decades, as it takes a more assertive stance in territorial disputes with Asian neighbours in the East and South China Seas.
But the US, which has dominated the Pacific since World War II, has pushed back with a "pivot" to Asia which Barack Obama has said is aimed at maintaining "American leadership" in the region.
Washington spends far more on its military than China, and is treaty-bound to defend Japan and South Korea, while other allies in the region include Taiwan and the Philippines.
Arthur Ding, a military expert at Taiwan's National Chengchi University, told AFP that the DF-21D "will somewhat complicate US operations in this region".
But he cautioned that the missiles' effective use required advanced co-ordination between satellites and ships, and that the US has "many countermeasures" available.
Firepower and mobility
Immediately before the parade, President and army head Xi Jinping announced that the PLA - currently the largest standing military in the world with 2.3 million troops - would cut 300,000 staff.
China's troops would "faithfully execute their solemn mission to maintain world peace," he added, and would never "seek hegemony".
It is the latest in a series of giant cuts to the bloated PLA, which Beijing has reduced by around two million troops since the 1980s as it seeks to craft a more efficient fighting force.
The latest decline was "within expectations" and had been under discussion for several years, Taiwan-based analyst Ding said, adding: "Overall firepower and mobility has been much better improved, so the cuts can be done." The fall in troop numbers is "consistent with scope of past reductions," said M. Taylor Fravel, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
"Ground forces will likely face the brunt of the reduction," he added, predicting it would also probably "streamline layers of command and bureaucracy within the PLA".
The military has been one of the targets of Xi's much-publicised anti-corruption drive - which analysts and diplomats say can be used for internal faction-fighting - with two of China's most senior generals falling victim to it in the past year.
Corruption - especially bribery for promotions - is thought to be endemic in China's army, but the parade provided a show of unity and adherence to the chain of command, troops and generals alike turning their eyes to Xi and saluting as they passed.
"The high ranking army officials are nervous because many of them probably were promoted because of bribes," Ding said.
"They have to show their loyalty. Xi has firm control of the military."