China celebrated the 60th birthday of the People’s Republic in magnificent style, parading its new high-tech military prowess and showcasing its post-1978 economic development and its rapid rise on the world stage in a 150-minute Tian’anmen event that did not neglect to refer back to 20th century revolutionary history. In the process, it sent out a clear message that while the country is strong and determined enough to use all its resources to protect its interests — beginning with the “one China” imperative — what it wants above all is an internal and external environment conducive to development and the improvement of the lives of 1.3 billion people.
In his short 60th National Day address, President Hu Jintao, who followed the traditional dress code for such occasions by appearing in a high-collared dark Mao suit in contrast to his colleagues who were dressed in western-style suits, left no doubt about the path along which China was headed. Mr. Hu, who as general secretary is the top leader of the Communist Party of China, proclaimed from the Tian’anmen Rostrum after reviewing the military formations: “We must unswervingly follow the road of socialism with Chinese characteristics…and the reform and opening-up policy…The development and progress of New China over the past 60 years fully proved that only socialism can save China and only reform and opening up can ensure the development of China, socialism, and Marxism.”
His basic message to the Chinese people was that they must unite more closely to build a “rich, strong, democratic, civilised, harmonious and modernised socialist country.” His message to the world was that the Chinese people were “full of confidence” and “cannot be prouder” of the country’s “great rejuvenation,” development and progress and that “today, a socialist China geared to modernisation, the world and the future has stood rock-firm in the east of the world.” He emphasised that China was committed to an independent foreign policy of promoting peace and development and building “a harmonious world of lasting peace and common prosperity.”
The centrepiece of the Tian’anmen programme was of course the military parade (for which we, a group of foreign journalists, had ringside seats). After President Hu, standing in a black open-top Red Flag limousine, drove along a 3-km route reviewing the military formations and delivered his address, the real show began. It featured about 8000 military personnel — men and women — in their smart, 2007-style uniforms. More interestingly, it unveiled an array of about 50 new weapon systems manufactured by China, including the latest intercontinental nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, a new generation of tanks, state-of-the-art radar, early warning and control aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, and satellite communication devices. Of high military and political interest were the five types of missiles of the Second Artillery Force (SAF), China’s core strategic deterrent, which made its national day parade debut this October 1.
The overall message from the military review and parade seemed to be that the PLA was well into the process of transforming itself (in the characterisation of a top Chinese general) “from a labour-intensive force into a [lean and effective] technology-intensive force” able to carry out “diverse military missions.”
As if to balance the picture and complete the symbolism of the occasion, Tian’anmen Square played host to 80,000 schoolchildren holding plastic wreaths and flowers and providing a kaleidoscopic background. In front of them, tens of thousands of civilians followed the military parade with a pageant of 60 floats depicting the six-decade history of the PRC. The pageant featured huge portraits of Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, former President Jiang Zemin, and Hu Jintao and theme floats relating to the historic contributions; a national flag borne by 1949 young men that covered nearly 600 square metres and weighed close to 150kg; and several floats on China’s development experience.
The gala evening of music, dance, art, and culture opened at Tian’anmen Square with a spectacular fireworks display lasting 33 minutes and eclipsing the fireworks show at the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony. As I write, the evening is quite young at Tian’anmen Square.