The Ministry of Propaganda will be working overtime this week as the nation gears up for the festivities surrounding the 75th anniversary of the People's Liberation Army on August 1. Those living on the mainland will be treated to excessive media reports extolling the virtues of model soldiers who embody the revolutionary martyrdom of the mythical Lei Feng, and there will undoubtedly be discourse about how China's armed forces are a critical component of President Jiang Zemin's Three Representatives (san ge daibiao) political theory. Ubiquitous television broadcasts will most certainly feature uniformed infantrymen and women singing operatic praise of Communism, and perhaps we will see an even greater crescendo of heart-stirring song than was evoked at the 2000 'Suite of Songs on the Ethics of Military Men' sung for Jiang Zemin, which was praised by Xinhua for 'climaxing time and again'. Not to be missed will be inevitable dancing wartime re-enactments, featuring soldiers in camouflaged leotards and tights, stained and bandaged with wounds apparently inflicted by an overzealous bottle of tomato sauce. Of course, the 75th anniversary of the People's Liberation Army will be far more than mere song and dance. While the August 1 holiday might not yield substantive changes in military policy, we can expect key speeches by Defence Minister Chi Haotian and Central Military Commission vice-chair Zhang Wannian that will shed some light on the inner sanctum of this remarkably opaque military force. It also provides an opportunity for analysts to determine whether China really wants to dispel fears that it is preparing for an imminent showdown across the Taiwan Strait. While few would disagree that tensions are growing between the mainland and Taiwan, Beijing is walking a diplomatic tightrope to keep up appearances for concerned foreign investors and watchdog governments, while making its displeasure crystal clear to President Chen Shui-bian. The Chinese government was remarkably polite responding to a recent verbal spanking inflicted by an American Pentagon report that charged China's military posed a serious threat and was spending as much as US$65 billion a year, and not the meagre US$20 billion they have been reporting. Instead of lashing out with typical Xinhua editorial vitriol about US hegemony, the China Daily issued a report stating this was merely a lack of understanding that could be alleviated by more bilateral visits, thus helping the uninitiated realise that 'China's national defence construction is not directed against any country and, thus, does not pose a threat to any country'. Aware of American criticism over how little concrete information is regularly divulged, Beijing recently took the unprecedented step of inviting Chinese and foreign journalists to inspect PLA Brigade 196 and Air Force Division 24 to show them there was nothing to hide. Not surprisingly, akin to other canned official press interviews - most notably visits to a Falun Gong educational reform camp where practitioners were seen lazing amidst manicured topiary shrubs and listening to classical music - western reporters visiting the Army bases were treated to viewing tofu production centres and soldiers reading poetry. The message was loud and clear, summed up by Brigade 196 commander Senior Colonel Hu Dongmin when he told reporters: 'China and the Chinese people, including its soldiers, love peace. Our country and army's modernisation level is still quite low and cannot constitute a threat to any country.' Of course there's no contradiction in China's eyes, as the main target of American concern, Taiwan, is not a country but a rogue province. Taiwan's defence department just issued its own 300-page report on the heels of the Pentagon's saying, 'The mainland is losing patience with 'peaceful reunification.'' President Chen Shui-bian has talked with increasing openness about the island 'choosing its own path' and former president Lee Teng-hui speculated outright that Taiwan would seek independence by 2008. In stark contrast to the patient response issued to the US, the China Daily wrote that Mr Chen was 'risking war by threatening to seek independence'. Considering China literally wrote the book on the Art of War, one of the most important litmus tests of Beijing's feelings about the cross-strait status quo remains to be seen through the regular holiday 'war games.' The 12th Group Army has already begun a 100,000-troop-strong extended military exercise in Fujian province. The types of weapons used and their proximity to Taiwan will be an important indicator of the severity of actual tension.