The numbers are in for China’s big day. In memory of the 20 million Chinese soldiers and civilians who died in World War II, 12,000 troops (including 1,000 members of 17 foreign militaries), 500 military vehicles, and 200 aircraft marched across Tiananmen Square.
Over 30 heads of state attended the parade and celebrations. The most high-profile guests were Russian President Vladimir Putin, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and South Korean President Park Geun Hye. Park’s attendance of Chinese victory celebrations is another symbol of the two countries’ improving relationship, driven by deteriorating ties with both North Korea and Japan. Other heads of state included those of Pakistan, South Africa, Sudan, Venezuela and Vietnam. Also notable was the attendance of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and former Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama. And among the visiting militaries who provided honor guards were those of Afghanistan, Belarus, Cambodia, Cuba, Egypt, Fiji, Kazakhstan, Krygzstan, Laos, Mexico, Pakistan, Russia, Serbia, Tajikstan, Vanatau and Venezuela. American, British and Russian WWII veterans were also honored, and a delegation of Japanese veterans attended as well.
While it was a celebration of a past victory, the parade was more about China’s power today and tomorrow. The PLA displayed a wide range of hardware, including Z-10 attack helicopters, ZTZ-99A main battle tanks, ZDB-04 infantry fighting vehicles, PLA-04 self propelled howitzters and ZBL-05 armored vehicles. Other pieces of equipment include combat engineer vehicles, surface-to-air missiles, air defense vehicles, and anti-tank missile launchers.
The PLAN contingent was restricted to displaying truck mounted YJ-83 and YJ-12 anti-ship missiles, in addition to flights of J-15 carrier borne fighters, special mission Y-8 aircraft and a Y-8Q anti-submarine warfare plane.
The PLAAF was responsible for the vast majority of the 200 aircraft in the massive flyby. Leading the formation was a KJ-2000 airborne command plane, escorted by six J-10AY fighters from China’s Baiyi aerobatics team. Other modern aircraft, including J-10 and J-11 fighters, the H-6K bombers and H-6U aerial tankers. Trucks also carried static models of Chinese UAVs, like the CH-3 UCAV and the Haiying maritime surveillance drone.
For many, though, Second Artillery’s missiles were the stars of the parade. As the Chinese service responsible for long-range missiles, the Second Artillery displayed the DF-31A ICBM and the older silo-based DF-3A ICBM (which had to be towed in a disassembled state by trucks). Also present was the first public debut of the “carrier killer” DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile, in the form of several transport erector launch (TEL) vehicles, for all terrain mobility. Also on display were new Chinese missiles, such as the 600km ranged DF-16 MRBM and the DF-26 intermediate range ballistic missiles, capable of hitting Guam or Tokyo from central China. But most interestingly, the DF-26 is stated to have an anti-ship capability, just like the DF-21D, meaning that enemy aircraft carriers 3,500km away from the Chinese coastline are at risk.
The parade made news, though, for another big number. In the middle of his address emphasizing “China’s peaceful development”, President Xi Jinping made a surprise announcement during the parade: that the PLA would decrease by 300,000 service members. This would be a 13 percent reduction in uniformed headcount, to just 2 million active duty personnel. Notably, however, just as with professionalization reforms that have taken place in the past in nations that range from US to Russia, the reduction is about raising the quality and effectiveness of a modern military, rather than reducing its capability.
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