Chance for China to pat itself on the back

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 September, 2009, 12:00am

The mainland is just four days away from its most spectacular, most hi-tech - and probably most expensive - one-day party to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic.

If last year's Beijing Olympics was China's coming out party and showcased its best to the rest of the world, Thursday's event is more domestic and political, aiming to show the Chinese people the great achievements of the past six decades under the rule of the Communist Party.

For those who believe in the ancient calendar counting 'heavenly stems' and 'earthly branches', a full lifespan takes 60 years. The 60th year is called jiazi, which means the end of a cycle and beginning of a new one, the perfect time for the mainland leadership to seek a new mandate and review its legitimacy.

The mainland has much to show off and celebrate. Among many achievements, the economy is expected to overtake that of Japan as the world's second largest by the end of this year, and it is already the world's largest trading power.

The Chinese are richer, stronger, and more confident, and on Thursday are expected to put these elements on full display, according to state media saturated over the last two weeks with details of the elaborate preparations.

The party is scheduled to start at 10am, first with the military parade and then with the parade by civilians. This is to be followed by a spectacular show of fireworks, lights and performances in the evening.

As always, the military parade holds the most expectations. The People's Liberation Army will display 56 military formations of more than 8,000 servicemen and showcase 52 new weaponry systems, including the most advanced inter-continental missiles, early warning aircraft, tanks and fighter jets. This will be followed by the civilians' parade of 180,000 people in floats and on foot.

The officials have promised the evening show to be even more spectacular than the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics with a 30 minute display of computer-directed fireworks, accompanied by a dazzling light show called Light Cube.

Given the historical and political significance of the celebrations and the recent riots in Xinjiang , it is understandable that the leadership wants security to be tighter than for the Olympics.

Authorities have set up three layers of checkpoints for people and vehicles entering Beijing and nearly one million civilians and police have been deployed to ensure security throughout the city, with security personnel and volunteers standing guard at each major intersection in central Beijing.

But the authorities should be reminded of the need to balance security concerns and allowing people to enjoy the moment. Earlier this month, the People's Daily carried a full page of reports about how foreign countries like France or Mexico celebrate their national days with military parades. Readers could not help but note the paragraphs recounting how the excited Parisians or Mexicans lined the routes of the parades to cheer on the troops and enjoyed the day.

If the rehearsals were any guide, most of the 20 million Beijingers will have no choice but to stay at home and watch on TV. During rehearsals, police and armed police set up cordons about 100 metres from the parade routes and shooed away anyone coming close. Hotels, office buildings, restaurants and other entertainment facilities along the routes were shut down and residents living in buildings were even asked not even to open their windows and take pictures.

These measures sound excessive. There would be fewer better images of a confident nation enjoying its moment than allowing ordinary mainlanders to cheer along the route of the parades.

On a more serious note, as the whole nation is swept up in the euphoria of celebrating China's economic rise and the great leadership of the Communist Party in the coming days, mainland officials should also be reminded of the need to maintain a cooler head. As President Hu Jintao said in an address to the United Nations in New York, the size of the mainland's economy may be ranked among the top in the world, but its per capita GDP is ranked outside the world's top 100 countries, meaning China still has a long way to go.

Global Times, an outspoken newspaper run by the People's Daily, hit the nail on the head with a commentary entitled: 'China must not lust after luxury before getting rich'. It responded to a report saying the mainland had become one of the world's largest consumers of luxury items, overtaking the United States.

Indeed, it should remain a motto for the leadership as it looks to the next 40 or 60 years.

So it is gratifying to learn of an internal notice in which Hu urged local authorities to be frugal in their own celebrations as is reported in the South China Morning Post today.

But the mainland leadership should also satisfy the curiosity of many ordinary mainlanders and consider making public the total costs of the National Day celebrations in Beijing after proper auditing, just like it did with the Olympics.