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President Xi Jinping, commander-in-chief of world’s biggest army told troops they should be unswervingly loyal to the Communist Party. Photo: Handout

China’s armed forces told to be loyal to party at show of military muscle to mark 90th anniversary

President Xi Jinping assures troops they have the ‘confidence and capability to defeat all armies that dare to offend’

China showed off its military might on Sunday with its first-ever parade to mark an anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army, ­featuring 12,000 troops in battle gear rather than the traditional dress ­uniform.

And for the troops assembled ahead of the 90th birthday of the founding of the PLA on August 1, the message from their leader, President Xi Jinping (習近平), was ­unequivocal.

China has “the confidence and capability to defeat all armies that dare to offend”, he said.

The military should be ­“unswervingly loyal” to the ruling Communist Party and “extend the battleground to wherever the party points ­towards”.

The parade at the Zhurihe Combined Tactics Training Base in Inner Mongolia displayed China’s latest weaponry, including its J-20 stealth fighter jet and DF-31AG advanced long-range missiles.

About 40 per cent of the hardware on show had never before been seen in public.

Xi, who as well as being president is the chairman on the ­Central Military Commission and commander-in-chief of the world’s largest army, told the troops to “be ready to assemble at the first call and be ­capable of fighting and winning any battle”.

Troops prepare for the military parade at the Zhurihe training base in northern China. Photo: Xinhua

The parade at Zhurihe, which is comparable to the Fort Irwin National Training Centre in the United States, came as China ­remains locked in a border stand-off with India and embroiled in an escalating crisis over its wayward neighbour and ally North Korea’s nuclear programme.

It also coincided with China’s continued efforts to assert its dominance in the region, both on land and in the contested waters of the East and South China seas.

Some military observers said the parade was likely to have been designed to showcase the ­progress the nation had made in modernising its army, especially over the past five years since Xi took power. All the equipment on display was domestically ­produced.

It might also have been meant as a retort to questions raised over China’s modern warfare capabilities, especially as it has not fought an actual war since a 1979 conflict with Vietnam.

While previous military parades, most of which were held in the Tiananmen Square area of downtown Beijing, were largely ceremonial and featured goose-stepping soldiers, yesterday’s event was altogether different.

On display were combat units, which Xi, wearing a camouflage uniform, addressed from a military jeep rather than from the usual black limousine.

Since coming to power in 2012, Xi has accelerated the modernisation of the country’s land, maritime, air and missile forces.

He has overseen investment in new technologies and equipment, the reorganisation of the command system, the streamlining of troop numbers and efforts to stamp out corruption.

The parade marked the first ­official display by the J-20. The development of the stealth fighter represents a significant milestone for the country’s air force as the jet is regarded as being on a technological par with the US’ fifth generation fighters like the ­F-35 and F-22.

H-6 bombers, which frequently conduct patrols over the East and South China seas, were also on display. Two other planes making their first public appearances were the J-16 fighter – which has replaced the J-11B jets seen at the 2015 military parade – and the J-10C fighter which, according to military analyst Yin Zhuo, will provide a huge boost to China’s combat capabilities in the South China Sea.

“[The parade] showcased the results of the military reform, including the boost in morale and political loyalty,” a Beijing source who asked not to be named said. “Secondly, it showed the public and the world China’s military capabilities and the standard of its home-grown weapons.”

The event was also markedly different from previous parades in its heavy emphasis on real combat and field operations, Zhao ­Xiaozhuo, a Beijing-based military commentator said on state television, adding that all of the military equipment on show was fully operational.

Another difference was that the troops on parade shouted “salute to the chairman” to Xi as he passed by, rather than “salute to the chief”, which is the standard greeting. The break from tradition is seen as a further sign of Xi’s centralised power over the military.

The chief instructor of the parade was rising star Han Weiguo, commander of the Central Theatre Command. Han, who is seen as an ally to Xi, was promoted to the rank of general just two days before the event.

Yesterday’s parade was also the first time in 36 years that a top Chinese leader had inspected troops outside Beijing.

The last time was in 1981 in Zhangjiakou (張家口), Hebei (河北 ) province, when then leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平 ) returned to power and assumed the role of chairman of the Central Military Commission, which is the country’s top military authority.

Additional reporting by Minnie Chan

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Xi sends a powerful message on 90th anniversary of p.l.a.