Celebrating 70th anniversary of end of WW-II: China to cut its military troops!
-Dr. Abdul Ruff
China celebrated the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II with a vast military parade in central Beijing on September 03. Tanks, missiles and troops in lock-step filed past Beijing’s iconic Tiananmen Square in a massive parade commemorating Japan’s World War II defeat 70 years ago and underlining President Xi Jinping’s determination to make China the pre-eminent Asian power. Today, China is the super power of Asia. Helicopters zoomed overhead in an array forming the number 70.
The spectacle involved more than 12,000 troops, 500 pieces of military hardware and 200 aircraft of various types, representing what military officials say is the Chinese military’s most cutting-edge technology. The parade is part of commemorations packaged to bolster the ruling Communist Party’s self-declared role as the driving force behind Japan’s defeat 70 years ago and savior of the nation, though historians say the rival Nationalists did most of the fighting. The events also minimize the role of the USA, Britain and others.
In what looks like an abrupt way that could send shock waves not just across Asian continent where Japan and India are its military competitors, but even in USA which is closely watching the Chinese military postures to reach the US strategic level. China has announced sweeping changes in its mighty military.
As he kicked off a massive military parade marking 70 years since the end of World War II in Asia, Chinese President Xi Jinping said on September 03 that China will cut its number of troops by 300,000 from the 2.3 million strong People’s Liberation Army, the world’s largest standing military. He declared that the military was “loyally committed to its sacred duty of defending the security of the motherland and the peaceful life of the people, and loyally committed to the sacred duty of safeguarding world peace.”
President Xi Jinping kicked off the proceedings with a speech at the iconic Tiananmen Gate in the heart of Beijing, flanked by Chinese leaders and foreign dignitaries, including Russian leader Vladimir Putin, South Korean President Park Geun-hye and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. \”The experience of war makes people value peace even more,\” Xi said.
Xi assured the world that regardless of the progress of events, China will never seek hegemony, China will never seek to expand and will never inflict the tragedies it suffered in the past upon others.\” Xi then drove past the assembled troops in a Chinese-made Red Flag limousine, standing up through a sunroof with four microphones mounted in front of him, calling out \”Greetings, Comrades\” every few moments, before the troops started their marching.
Xi gave no details about how his administration intends to carry out the cuts, and they may be achieved by natural attrition or reduced recruitment, rather than direct reductions. But at a time when China’s economic growth has slowed, the reduced military intake could add pressure on the government. In the past, decommissioned officers and former soldiers unhappy with their job prospects and welfare have become a persistent source of protests outside government offices.
The Chinese government does not issue regular statistics on its military forces. But experts estimate that the army has about 1.6 million personnel, the navy 240,000, and the air force 400,000. The cut would shrink military forces to two million personnel, the China News Service, a state-run agency, said. China has about 2.3 million men and women in its military, according to most recent estimates, and the bulk of them are infantry soldiers, often recruited from the countryside to serve for a few years before they re-enter the civilian work force. The government will be under pressure to find jobs for the demobilized soldiers, many with limited skills.
The parade, which began immediately after Xi spoke, appeared to be an attempt by the Communist Party to showcase the nation’s rising military might to a global audience. Many outside observers saw it as a display of the assertive posture China has taken in the region as territorial disputes have flared, prompting the United States to underline its military dominance of Asian seas. In announcing the cuts, the largest in nearly two decades, Xi signaled his determination to press forward with his agenda of military restructuring despite China’s economic slowdown.
It appears the reductions are unlikely to ease regional worries about China’s growing military strength, because they were part of the modernization program to shift the People’s Liberation Army’s resources from traditional land forces. ”It would seem to be a pleasant surprise, because he’s clearly dressing it up as a signal of peace and good will,” said a specialist “But China probably doesn’t need an army as large as it has.”
Though funded entirely from state incomes, personnel are a massive cost in a military budget, and there’s been a lot of growth in military wages in China in recent years, so there are sensible capability reasons to cut personnel numbers without cutting effectiveness.
The reduction announced by Xi is similar in size to cuts made under his predecessor, President Jiang Zemin, who in the early 2000s trimmed troop numbers by 200,000. The move showed that Xi’s plans for reorganizing the military were continuing, despite the lack of publicly disclosed details since those plans were declared in 2013. Ground forces will likely face the brunt of the reduction, but in the past reductions have been used to streamline layers of command and bureaucracy within the army. The new cuts would be the largest since 1997, when a reduction of 500,000 military personnel was announced.
Xi started his rise through the Communist Party as an aide to the minister of defense for several years starting in 1979, when China was smarting from a brief but disastrous war with Vietnam. Since he became head of the Communist Party in November 2012, Xi has closely associated himself with the military, while also pursuing a campaign against corruption that has reached into the topmost ranks of the PLA command. ”Today, peace and development have become the prevailing trend, but the world is far from tranquil,” Xi said in his speech. “War is the sword of Damocles that still hangs over mankind. We must learn the lessons of history and dedicate ourselves to peace.”
After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the People’s Liberation Army emerged from the Communist revolution as both a bulwark against external threats and a domestic guardian of the party’s power. Its numbers have always been heavily weighted toward the land armies arrayed across China. But over recent decades, China’s leaders have tried to shift more resources to air and naval forces intended to project influence abroad and assert the country’s claims to disputed islands and waters.
According to Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, the reduction in troops was part of an effort by Xi to make the military more efficient and professional. The Chinese have made significant strides in building a world-class army over the past decade. But serious challenges remain, including upgrading military weapons and training personnel. Nobody knows how China’s military is going to stack up against what the USA has. But in important ways they are certainly closing the gaps.
Scheduled for the day after the 70th anniversary of Japan’s formal surrender, the parade was devised to stress Japan’s war guilt and glorify the Chinese Communist Party’s role in the conflict. Many Western nations, now allied with Japan, find the effort to shame Tokyo offensive, and are also uncomfortable with the party’s assertion that the Communists defeated the occupying Japanese forces. Historians credit the Nationalists, their opponents in the civil war that ended in 1949, with most of the fighting.
The turnout of foreign leaders was far more modest than the party wanted, partly because many nations were wary of being seen to support a growing Chinese military. In recent years, moves by China on its Himalayan border and in disputed regional waters — including building artificial islands in part for military use — have set neighboring countries on edge.
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia topped the list of foreign attendees, and audience members in the stands clapped loudly when he was shown on TV in the square. The president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, indicted by the International Criminal Court on genocide charges, was the most prominent African leader in the stands. Xi welcomed him as an “old friend of the Chinese people.” Though Beijing pressured Western European countries to send high-level officials, few promised to do so. The United States sent its ambassador to China, Max Baucus.
For military enthusiasts in China and many observers overseas, the display of armaments was the most anticipated part of the parade. The People’s Liberation Army, whose budget, according to official figures, grew 10 percent this year, sees the parade as a strategic site for “displaying a capable military and demonstrating the will to use it.
Xi has cast himself as a savior of the military, saying that corruption must be eradicated for the army to be battle-ready, and he has also strengthened his base by promoting officers in the general staff. For Xi, just as important as the display of hardware is the optics of aligning the military’s might with his personal command. A large part of his reputation as a forceful leader rests on the fact that he consolidated power quickly after taking office in 2012, particularly his control of the military. Xi immediately took over the role of chairman of the Central Military Commission, which supervises the military, from his predecessor, Hu Jintao, then moved swiftly to purge top generals in a broad anticorruption drive.
“Xi badly wants to build up an image of being the most authoritative military commander since Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping,” said Zhang Lifan, a historian whose father was a minister under early Communist rule. “I believe the parade is mostly for domestic politics since he wants to further assert power in the army.”
Most leading democracies kept high-level representatives away, reflecting concerns over the parade’s anti-Japanese tone and China’s recent aggressive moves to assert territorial claims. The U.S. sent only its ambassador to observe. In Washington, U.S. Defense Department spokesman Bill Urban said that the US maintains such commemorations should be about reconciliation and that a \”large military display would not appear to be consistent with this theme.\”
Under Xi, who took power as party leader in late 2012, Beijing has sent ships to confront Japan’s coast guard near disputed islands in the East China Sea, blockaded Philippine island outposts and constructed whole islands from reefs, topping them with airstrips and other military infrastructure.
China usually holds lavish military parades only every 10 years to mark the anniversary of the founding of the communist People’s Republic in 1949. By holding an additional one now, Xi ensures that he’ll preside over at least two of the prestigious events during his decade-long tenure in power ending in 2023. The parade panders to a prickly strain of nationalism in a Chinese public constantly reminded by state propaganda of China’s past humiliations at the hands of foreign powers, especially Japan, which is widely despised for its perceived failure to properly atone for invading China.
While a hit at home, such sentiments heighten fears abroad about China’s intended uses of its newfound power, frustrating Beijing’s attempts to market itself as a responsible member of international society committed to the common good. \”In domestic terms, it’s certainly a plus for Xi. But in foreign policy terms, it’s controversial. It doesn’t enhance China’s soft power. It doesn’t help China’s image as a force for peace, stability and development,\” said Joseph Cheng, a retired academic and political analyst in Hong Kong.
China will always go down the path of peaceful development, Xi added, speaking on a rostrum overlooking Tiananmen Square. This is part of efforts by the PLA which operate with annual defence budget of USD 145 bullion, the second highest after US to streamline its force as it launched unprecedented modernisation with new weapons and technology.