The People’s Republic of China grandly celebrated its sixtieth anniversary on Thursday with a massive military display and an elaborate parade, showcasing the country’s rapid rise and its achievements in six eventful decades.

The Chinese President Hu Jintao lauded the country’s transformation from a once backward and isolated country to a global power. “Today, a socialist China is standing tall in the East, marching towards modernisation and embracing the world,” he said.

He said China would “unswervingly” follow the “reform and opening up” policies launched three decades ago that had fuelled the country’s economic resurgence. He also, albeit, obliquely, hinted at the two most pressing challenges his country faced: continuing its growth in uncertain economic times and maintaining communal harmony in the face of recent ethnic unrest.

Amidst heavy security, a military parade featuring 6,000 soldiers, 52 new weapon systems, 15 fighter jets and five nuclear missiles made its way through Beijing’s deserted streets to the city’s famous Tiananmen Square, where 80,000 schoolchildren put on a show for a select group of officials and guests. Much of Beijing was effectively shut down on Thursday with officials citing security concerns, and the city’s residents were barred from watching the festivities.

The military parade, keenly watched by military experts in India and elsewhere, was China’s largest ever and the first in a decade.

Analysts said China’s People’s Liberation Army was using the occasion to send a strong message, home and abroad, and showcase its transformation from a once primitive and bloated army to one of the world’s most high-tech military outfits.

Far removed from the days of Mao Zedong when National Day celebrations in Beijing meant a million marching soldiers, on display on Thursday were Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, nuclear missiles and radars, reflecting the immense change and technological advancement the country, and its army, has seen.

Mr. Hu addressed the nation from the famous rostrum on Tiananmen Gate which overlooks the square, where sixty years ago Mao declared the founding of the PRC and Communist rule. In a ten-minute speech largely directed to a domestic audience, Mr. Hu said China would maintain policies of reform and would also “push for peaceful reunification” with Taiwan.

Mr. Hu also made many references to the importance of “preserving ethnic unity", which has become one of the most pressing challenges his administration now faces with recent unrest in the Muslim-majority region of Xinjiang, which claimed 197 lives in July, and also in Tibet last year.

The spectacle ended with the 80,000 school children, amassed in the centre of the famous square, spelling out in red and yellow flowers a parting message to all viewers at home: “Obey the Communist Party’s Command,” it said.

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