Peace and stability can only be guaranteed through a strong military
The impressive military parade that was the centrepiece of events in Beijing yesterday marking the 70th anniversary of Japan's second world war defeat was replete with meaning. President Xi Jinping's announcement shortly before it began of a 300,000 cut in troop strength and a pledge of China's peaceful development sent a conflicting message to some observers. To them, the technologically advanced hardware on show spoke more of sabre-rattling than friendship. But that belies the mission of the People's Liberation Army to be a force for peace and stability.
This was, after all, on a day honouring the sacrifice and heroism of Chinese who endured 14 years of Japanese aggression. From that experience has come a desire for peace and a will to prevent a repeat. As Xi said, "Prejudice and discrimination, hatred and war can only cause disaster and pain". For that reason, the PLA was "loyally committed to its sacred duty of defending the security of the motherland and the peaceful life of the people" and "safeguarding world peace".
Xi has been spearheading a modernisation of the military, and reducing its numbers from 2.3 million furthers his aims to streamline operations. The strategy of shifting strength away from the army to air and naval forces means fewer personnel are needed. It is the reason the numbers of PLA soldiers have been cut by one million over the past 18 years. That does not diminish the PLA's effectiveness; rather, it improves strategic capabilities and its ability to respond to threats.
The US and regional governments that worry about China's growing might doubt Beijing's sincerity. Rather than accepting invitations for leaders to attend the event, they either chose to stay away or sent lower-ranking officials. The parade of 12,000 troops, ballistic missiles, tanks and armoured vehicles, with jets overhead, was viewed by some outsiders as a continuation of a perceived assertive posture on show through activities in the East and South China seas. But military parades are not unusual in other nations, nor is it rare for them to put their latest equipment on show: it is all about combat readiness.
China has long shown it is a responsible player in regional and world affairs. Its military is for defensive purposes and Chinese have long been an integral part of global peacekeeping operations. But peace, as China so tragically learned more than 70 years ago, cannot be taken for granted. Only through a well-prepared military can peace and stability be guaranteed.