Jiang Zemin

Hu's suit catches the eye - but not of distant crowds on shore

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 April, 2009, 12:00am

President Hu Jintao broke from tradition at the country's historic naval parade in Qingdao yesterday as he opted for a western suit instead of the usual greenish Maoist military uniform.

Sporting a black suit and white gloves, Mr Hu stood out in a row of green-attired military top brass as he waved to naval vessels sailing past the flagship Shijiazhuang, which had members of China's supreme command and foreign dignitaries aboard.

Although it was one of the more important military duties Mr Hu has performed in his career - yesterday's multinational naval parade was the first of its kind in the history of the People's Republic - curiously he went for a civilian-looking western suit instead of the uniform.

Mr Hu has no service record and holds no military rank. But as the chairman of the Central Military Commission, he is officially the supreme commander of the People's Liberation Army.

Like his predecessor, Jiang Zemin , Mr Hu sometimes wears a plain Maoist green military uniform that has no badge or insignia to emphasise his role as supreme commander, particularly when attending important military functions.

The PLA's military uniforms have undergone many changes over the past few decades, but the plain green uniform remains basically unchanged and is reserved for the country's top man. It was worn by Deng Xiaoping before Mr Jiang and Mr Hu.

But yesterday's historic moment was missed by most of those who braved the cold, waiting all day along the coast to get a glimpse of the parade. The event was held 20 nautical miles from the shore, and the weather was misty. It proved to be disappointing for people who had come from across the country to watch.

State leaders had held three naval inspections before, but they were all closed-door events, nowhere near yesterday's parade in terms of scale and symbolism.

Mainland media had been writing about it for a week, and people from across the country flocked to Qingdao to watch. A police officer in the city's May 4th Square, overlooking Fushan Bay, said at least 10,000 people had gathered there yesterday.

'Even after 4pm when the inspection was over, there were still more than 6,000 people here,' he said.

Intensive coverage by state media focused mainly on the navy's rising prowess and international recognition, rather than information such as the time and venue of the parade.

'I received a news update on my cellphone. It quoted Xinhua as saying that the review was at 9am,' said a Qingdao resident, Mr Wang. 'But when I came here, I saw nothing. I thought the parade was over.'

It was a long day for a Mr Liu from Jinan . After arriving early yesterday by train, he rushed to a bay near Qingdao Port to see foreign naval ships sailing to the parade site.

'I am extremely disappointed. As a Chinese person I feel very proud that our country is hosting such a big event, but we couldn't even have a look at it.'

The event was not broadcast live by CCTV. Some mainland websites carried live text reports.

Even after 4pm when the inspection was over, there were still more than 6,000 people here A police officer in Qingdao's May 4th Square