TAIPEI — China demonstrated more than just its growing military capability during a celebratory parade this week commemorating the 70th anniversary of its victory over imperialist Japan.
The leadership review stand left no guesswork about who is in charge of China's military, with President Xi Jinping not sharing the stand with anyone within the party leadership, except former Presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. Instead of party members, Russian President Vladimir Putin stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Xi.
"It was all eyes on Xi," said Mark Stokes, a former senior country director for the Pentagon's China desk in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense. "Definitely put an end to the idea of collective leadership. Xi was firmly in charge, and only Xi."
Stokes is now executive director of the Project 2049 Institute.
Xi’s parade speech included the announcement that force levels would be reduced of a reduction of by 300,000 personnel from the current present force levels of 2.3 million. Xi further stated that China is a nation interested in peace and committed to peaceful development.
"We Chinese love peace," Xi said. "No matter how much stronger it may become, China will never seek hegemony or expansion."
Xi's announcement of a troop reduction as at the same time he "hosted a lavish military pageant seemed incongruous," said Patrick Cronin, senior adviser and senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program, Center for a New American Security.
However, Wang Dong, deputy executive director, School of International Studies, Peking University, said there was no contradiction. Xi’s speech was designed to "reassure the region and the international community that China sticks to peaceful development." The military personnel cut is intended was also a move to modernize the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and "make it leaner and more effective," Wang said.
"The PLA is modernizing for gaining air and sea denial and control well out beyond the first island chain," Cronin said. "An over-sized army is extra baggage for this high-tech, missile, airpower, cyber and space force."
Xi is literally transforming China. Since taking office in 2012, he initiated more than started over 300 reforms touching every aspect of the Communist Party, government, military and society.
"Xi has placed himself at the pinnacle of every decision-making body, whether that is the military, or cyberspace or crisis management," Cronin said.
The military parade also reflected Xi’s approach to power. The chief of staff, or deputy commander, or other command-level official led each of the formations, Stokes said. , now with the Project 2049 Institute.
The parade also neglected to give the armed forces of the Republic of China (ROC) or the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalists) any credit for defeating the Japanese.
"It is obvious that the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] wanted to reinforce its successor state myth, that is, the ROC ceased to exist in 1949 and therefore the CCP represents the successes and interests of Chinese people on Taiwan," Stokes said. "I didn't hear them mention the ROC once. This was a huge slam against Taiwan."
However, KuomintangKMT war veterans did attend the parade as special guests of the CCP, and former ROC (Taiwan) Vice President Lien Chan attended. Since 2004, Lien has made numerous trips to China to meet with CCP officials. Lien unsuccessfully ran as a presidential candidate in 2000 and 2004.
The parade also served to demonstrated China’s advances in ballistic missile capabilities, including two anti-ship ballistic missiles (DF-21D "carrier killer" and the DF-26 "Guam killer"), along with two intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) capable of targeting any US city with nuclear warheads (DF-31A and DF-5A). The DF-5A is China’s first nuclear capable ballistic missile outfitted with multiple independent re-entry vehicles (MIRV).
Vasiliy Kashin, a China defense specialist at the Moscow-based Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, said there is debate on whether the DF-5B is a new production series or an upgraded variant of the DF-5A.
"My understanding is that basically the missile is comparable to the old Soviet R-16 [SS-7 Saddler] ICBM and requires lengthy prestart preparation and refueling, which limits its usefulness for a second strike and that cannot be solved by simple modification of this missile," Kashin said. "Most likely the creation of a MIRVed version of the DF-5 is a temporary solution before MIRVed DF-41 ICBMs are deployed in sufficient numbers. Still, the deployment of a [DF-5B] MIRVed ICBM is a major development, which proves that the old minimum deterrence doctrine is being abandoned."
Hans Kristensen, director, Nuclear Information Project, Federation of American Scientists, noted that the absence of the DF-41 raises questions about its development. He said that parading the DF-5B might also indicate be an indicator of problems developing MIRV for the DF-41.
"The size of the warhead section [on the DF-5B] gives an indication of the challenge to develop multiple warheads for the solid-fuel missiles," he said. "Yet, given China's focus on solid-fueled mobile missiles [DF-31A ICBM] to reduce vulnerability, it is kind of amazing to see that the old liquid-fuel, silo-based DF-5 continues to live on in Chinese military planning more than three decades after the original system was first deployed."