At remote northern outpost, China’s military marches where Genghis Khan once rode
Zhurihe is Mongolian for “the heart” and the place where Xi chose to show the strength of the country’s armed forces
A military parade overseen by President Xi Jinping on Sunday has put the spotlight on a remote spot in Inner Mongolia.
Zhurihe – the name comes from the Mongolian term for “the heart” – houses Asia’s biggest military training ground. And with the exercise, China’s state media is hard at work linking the base to past martial triumphs and to Zhurihe’s current role in preparing China’s military for the future.
The base, covering a land area about 13 times the size of Hong Kong Island, is close to where Genghis Khan began to conquer Eurasia with his cavalry eight centuries ago.
It was also the region where Emperor Kangxi, who had the longest reign in Chinese history, crushed a revolt, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
Xi chose Zhurihe to show off China’s military might in a parade to mark the 90th birthday of the People’s Liberation Army.
It was the first time China has staged a military parade to celebrate the anniversary of the PLA’s founding.
The military presence in the area dates back to 1957, when a training base for the PLA’s armoured forces was set up in the remote town about 400km northwest of Beijing.
In 1997, China decided to build a “first-class” training centre at Zhurihe, one that would help the army prepare for future hi-tech battles.
The base was first opened to foreign military officials in 2003. And two years later, observers from 24 countries, including the United States, Russia and Britain, were invited to attend a military exercise there.
In 2014, Zhurihe hosted a six-day joint anti-terror drill, with forces from Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan teaming up with PLA personnel.
The facilities at Zhurihe include mock battlefields, hospitals and a logistics centre.
Every summer, the training base holds realistic war games that see the “red force”, comprised of a rotating group of troops from across the country, battle the “blue force”.
It is a dedicated group of crack soldiers that simulates the command system and tactics of Western forces.
The blue force was given upgraded equipment last year, including the military’s most advanced tanks and artillery, CCTV reported.
Antony Wong Dong, a Macau-based military observer, said the parade would help China showcase its military strength to the world.
“The South China Sea and the Korean peninsula crises are still evolving, while the recent Sino-Indian border stand-off has added to the problems,” Wong said.
“Within this context, the event inevitably served as a show-off of military power.”
China’s military parades are generally held in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, and are an occasion for much pomp.
The parade at Zhurihe, however, involved no bands or cheering bystanders. Each of the 12,000 people at the site, including Xi and his top generals, were in field uniforms.
Zhurihe has stirred controversy before, in Taiwan. In 2015, clips broadcast by CCTV showed a PLA exercise involving a mock-up of the island’s Presidential Office Building.
Wong said the advanced facilities at Zhurihe could help the Chinese military match up with its American counterpart.
“The gap is closing in terms of hardware,” Wong said. “The biggest difference is [Chinese] troops lack experience in battling in real wars.”