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Xi Jinping oversees military parade in show of might

Soldiers from the People's Liberation Army of China preparing for a military parade on Sunday to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the founding of the army. Photo: China Daily/Reuters

Just hours after bomber jets from the US, South Korea and Japan swarmed the skies over the Korean Peninsula in a "show of strength" message to North Korea, China's President Xi Jinping on Sunday reviewed an elaborate military parade in Inner Mongolia.

The event was designed to show that China has the "confidence and capability" to rise into a world power, Xi said, as state television showed him dressed in fatigues and speaking to troops from an open-top jeep.

Xi said that China needed a strong military "more than ever" as it moved "closer to the goal of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation."

The Chinese leader has frequently spoken of his "China Dream," a vision of restored international leadership for the country of nearly 1.4 billion people.

Unlike previous public displays of its growing military might, China held Sunday's event at the remote Zhurihe military base in Inner Mongolia -- instead of in the center of Beijing.

A Defense Ministry spokesman said Zhurihe -- Asia's largest military training center in the middle of a desert and complete with life-size mockup targets such as Taiwan's presidential palace -- was selected to highlight the People's Liberation Army's combat readiness, but he emphasized that war-zone trainings had been long scheduled.

More than 100 planes flew overhead and almost 600 types of weaponry were on display for the occasion — nearly half of which were making their debut in public, according to the Defense Ministry.

Attracting the most attention on Sunday was the J-20, China's newest-generation stealth fighter that could potentially rival the F-22 or F-35 in the US military.

Perhaps coincidentally, the last weapons rolled out at Sunday's parade were China's own nuclear warhead-capable ICBMs, which state TV announcers proudly called "symbols of a major power."

Since Xi took command, it has shed thousands of troops and invested heavily in modern weapons.

Xi's plan has included extracting televised vows of loyalty from top generals and holding frequent events to showcase his support for the military.

He again issued a demand for loyalty on Sunday.

"Always listen to and follow the party's orders," Xi told his assembled troops. "And march to wherever the party points to."

Officially, the display was to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the creation of the People's Liberation Army. But it was also the highlight of a week of political theater promoting Xi as a uniquely qualified politician whose elevated status as China's "core" leader, endorsed by officials last year, should be entrenched at the party congress.

"These military parades could become a regular, institutionalized thing, but this one also has a special meaning this year," said Deng Yuwen, a former editor at a party newspaper in Beijing who writes current affairs commentaries. "It's meant to show that Xi Jinping firmly has the military in his grip, and nobody should have any illusions of challenging him."

Xi is by the estimate of many observers China's most powerful leader since Deng Xiaoping, who died in 1997. While the military does not have much direct say in politics, its support is essential for Xi's long-term authority, said Professor Ding Xueliang, a political scientist at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology who studies the Chinese Communist Party.

"Xi Jinping has spent more time on the military than any other leader," Professor Ding said by telephone. "He knows clearly that eventually, if he wants to keep in power, if he wants to concentrate power even more, he must make sure the army is with him." 

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