Officially titled the Commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of Victory of the Chinese People’s Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and World Anti-Fascist War, 12,000 troops, including some from other countries, 500 pieces of military equipment, and 200 aircraft paraded past Tiananmen Square Thursday morning under the bluest skies I have seen anywhere in the world. And in case anyone still doubts the government’s ability to pull off the seemingly impossible, the temperature was perfect and Beijing’s notorious summer humidity disappeared for the day.
It was a truly spectacular event. The discipline on display must have required hundreds of hours of practice. Heads of state from around the world attended, the most famous being President Vladmir Putin of Russia, who stood by President Xi JinPing’s side during the review, South Korean President Park Geun-hye, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. (President Barack Obama turned down his invitation.)
In the end, however, this celebration was really for the Chinese people and only indirectly for the rest of the world. Much of the legitimacy of the Communist Party of China flows from its role as savior of a once-great civilization that was on the brink of destruction at the hands of foreign powers eager to divide its land and its riches. That reversal of fortune is the very essence of President Xi Jinping’s Chinese Dream, and symbolically much of that legitimacy is embodied in Japan’s surrender given that the wounds of Japanese atrocities are still very raw in the minds of even those Chinese not yet born at the time.
If you do the historical math you will note that the People’s Republic of China did not exist 70 years ago. (The Communists, under Mao Zedong, were fighting the army of the Kuomintang, under Chiang Kai-shek.) They agreed to work together, however, to eject the Japanese from Chinese soil. And while some Taiwanese officials maintain that the Kuomintang did most of the actual fighting, Lien Chen, former Kuomintang chairman, attended the festivities and had a personal audience with President Xi Jinping.
The government spared no precautions to make sure the event went smoothly. Since the beginning of August security checkpoints have been set up on all roads leading into Beijing. Auto registrations and drivers licenses were checked and the contents of many trunks or boots were examined. Cars were limited to driving only on even/odd days, depending on their plate, more than 1,000 factories and constructions sites were shut down or forced to reduce production, and the airports around Beijing were closed for the event. Restaurants were closed, residents who live along the parade site were warned to stay off their balcony and the China National Offshore Oil Corp, China’s largest off-shore oil and gas producer donated 15,000 metric tons of its highest quality asphalt, CNOOC 36-1, to re-pave the entire parade route, only the third time such high quality asphalt has been put to use.
And if that doesn’t sound cautious enough, the government trained monkeys to climb up and dismantle the nests of birds that might inadvertently fly into the engines of aircraft used in the parade.
And what does this all mean for the rest of the world?
I cannot fathom that there is a people in the world that would allow their government to start an all-out war with China. The results would be unimaginable. (To make the point of how far its military capability has come, 84% of the military equipment exhibited at the parade was being displayed to the public for the first time.)
This past Sunday, 120,000 Japanese took to the streets of Tokyo (There were 300 demonstrations across Japan.) against PM Shinzo Abe’s desire to introduce bills that would allow Japanese troops to fight on foreign soil on behalf of allies. And the US and the Philippines have recently announced enhanced military ties as part of the US pivot to Asia.
It is clear that neither the Philippines nor Japan, without the direct backing of the US, could stir up any trouble in the region. Which is exactly why the Chinese see the US pivot as so destabilizing. And for what benefit?
Parades are, by definition, symbolic and carry great significance to the inductive thinker. So, too, is nationalism symbolic, and if history has taught us anything it is that nationalism has components of both yin and yang. Military aggression in the name of nationalism is a recurring story of history.
Be careful what you wish for, as my father used to say. China has done nothing to show that it has any desire to alter the world order. Let us not, as Americans, give them any reason to change that position due to some political strategy of cause and effective designed by our deductively minded political strategists.
The world has changed. We need to accept that and re-define our role in a way that promotes harmony and doesn’t pave the road to inevitable conflict.
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Copyright © 2015 Glassmaker in China
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