Beijing: With flybys of advanced new jets and a mass rally of troops, Chinese President Xi Jinping oversaw a large-scale military parade at a remote northern China base on Sunday to mark 90 years since the founding of the People’s Liberation Army.
China’s armed forces, the world’s largest, are in the midst of an ambitious modernisation programme, which includes investment in technology and new equipment, such as stealth fighters and aircraft carriers, as well as cuts to troop numbers.
Xi inspected troops from the back of a jeep at the Zhurihe training base in China’s Inner Mongolia region, an event carried live on state television.
Travelling down a long strip lined with tanks, missile launchers and other military vehicles, Xi, wearing military fatigues, greeted thousands of troops.
Xi, who oversees the PLA in his role as head of the powerful Central Military Commission, repeatedly shouted, “Hello comrades!” and “Comrades, you are working hard!” into four microphones fixed atop his motorcade as martial music blared in the background.
The troops bellowed back: “Serve the people!”, “Follow the Party!”, “Fight to win!” and “Forge exemplary conduct!”.
Tanks, vehicle-mounted nuclear-capable missiles and other equipment rolled by, as military aircraft flew above, including H-6K bombers, which have been patrolling near Taiwan and Japan recently, the J-15 carrier-based fighters and new generation J-20 stealth fighter.
It was the first time China has marked Army Day, which formally falls on Aug. 1, with a military parade since the Communist revolution in 1949, state news agency Xinhua said.
It was also the first time Xi has reviewed troops in the field like this, Xinhua added.
China’s military is more nimble and technologically proficient following reforms to make it more compact and responsive, and less reliant on its sheer troop numbers, Xi said last week.
China has not fought a war in decades and the government insists it has no hostile intent, but simply needs the ability to properly defend what is now the world’s second-largest economy.
However, China has rattled nerves around Asia and globally with its increasingly assertive stance in the East and South China Seas and its military modernisation plan.
Some of the military reforms have also been controversial at home.
Sources with ties to the military say Xi’s announcement to cut 300,000 troops, made at a massive military parade through central Beijing in 2015 to mark 70 years since the end of World War Two, has caused unease within the ranks.