China's military parade to mark end of WWII also highlights its allies

A Chinese soldier stands guard at a military facility in Zhejiang Province on July 12, 2011. China has increased its stated military budgets by more than 10 percent annually for the past 5 years, and that fact is causing concern for neighbors in the region and in the United States.


By WYATT OLSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 2, 2015

China will mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II with a grandiose military parade Thursday that could be viewed more as of a show of force to its neighbors than a celebration of Japan’s defeat in 1945.

“The way the U.S. is viewing it — and I think correctly — is that the Chinese are really taking this as an opportunity to demonstrate that they are the emerging power in Asia, that they have developed sophisticated military capabilities and that the world is coming to China to witness the grandeur of Chinese achievement,” said Carl Baker, director of Pacific Forum CSIS in Honolulu.

The U.S., Japan and most European countries are not sending military representatives and only rank-and-file diplomats, while roughly a dozen other nations — Cuba, Kyrgyzstan, Cambodia, Pakistan, Laos and Russia, for example — are sending military teams of seven to 75 people to march in the parade, as well as state leaders.

And after much national handwringing, South Korea announced that President Park Geun-hye would visit China during the anniversary — but might skip the parade.

The military parade is consistent with the assertive style of China President Xi Jinping, who’s been a proponent of the nation’s beefier naval presence in the South China Sea and frequently invokes the Communist Party of China’s version of history as a justification for regional supremacy.

China has declared Sept. 3 a national holiday, elevating recognition of the end of WWII to a new formal status. The irony of the commemoration’s timing is that although the United States was China’s chief ally during the war, tensions between the two countries have climbed recently over island disputes in the South China Sea between China and other claimants in Southeast Asia.

After the U.S. declared war on Japan a day after the Dec. 7, 1941, surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, America began heaping money upon Chiang Kai-shek, leader of the Republic of China and Kuomintang, or Chinese Nationalist Party. Japan had occupied parts of China since 1931.

Chiang didn’t fully trust U.S. motives in China — and many Allied military leaders came to reciprocate that mistrust – but his nationalist army offered the lion’s share of resistance against the Japanese, even as Chiang’s forces were engaged in a civil war with communist rebels.

Chiang and his army were essentially defeated on the mainland by the People’s Liberation Army in 1949, and he and his remaining forces fled to what is now Taiwan.

Some Taiwanese, particularly the few still-living Kuomintang veterans there, have expressed ire with the Communist Party of China using the parade to depict itself as the leading-edge force against Japanese occupation. Most historians maintain that the communist party played a minor role in fighting the Japanese.

Some Asia analysts view the splashy military parade primarily as pushback against efforts by Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to expand the scope of the country’s Self-Defense Force, driven in part by its own island disputes with China.

“In previous decades there has been a latent competition between China and Japan, and it’s becoming a bit rawer with each decade,” said Denny Roy, a senior fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu.

“On the one hand, China obviously sees itself as on the path to regain what the Chinese see as their status as regional leaders. Counterposed with that is what the Chinese see as the Abe counterrevolution to return Japan to full-fledged great power, including the military aspects.”

The U.S. supports Abe’s efforts to aid in regional security, but that complicates America’s North Pacific trilateral security arrangement that also includes South Korea, which carries its own bitter memories of Japanese occupation.

The trip to Beijing by South Korea’s president only complicates the arrangement.

“I think that’s why the United States did try to discourage South Korea from going because it does send a signal that the South Koreans see that relationship with China as really important, and it’s important because they see China as the real avenue to dealing with North Korea,” Baker said.

Park was likely feeling domestic pressure to go “to avoid putting herself in a position of being accused of being overly sensitive to Japanese sensibilities by not going,” Roy said.

“At the same time, South Korea has its own relationship with China and its own calculations about how to best balance its desire for continuing strong relationships with the U.S on one hand and with China on the other.”

While the Communist Party of China has been flummoxed in responding to the recent collapse of the country’s bull-run stock market, it’s leaving little chance for failure or the unexpected during the parade, according to various news reports.

The nation’s two stock markets will be closed Thursday through Sunday, along with Beijing’s two airports most of Thursday morning.

Hospitals in central Beijing will close except for emergency room service.

The parade is particularly onerous on residents living in buildings adjoining the parade route. They’ve been instructed stay away from windows and off balconies and to not use gas stoves.

The Chinese air force is using trained macaque monkeys and falcons to clear air space above Beijing of birds that might interfere with jet formation displays, according to the Beijing News. The air force keeps 10 falcons that circle the sky, intimidating other birds to leave the area.

The monkeys are used to climb trees and tear down bird nests, a task they can reportedly complete within a minute per nest.

Twitter: @WyattWOlson

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