China’s Communist Party marked 70 years in power Tuesday with a military parade showcasing the country’s global ambitions and advancements in weapons technology.
Trucks carrying nuclear missiles designed to evade U.S. defenses, a supersonic attack drone and other products of a two-decade-old weapons development effort rolled through Beijing as soldiers marched past President Xi Jinping and other leaders on Tiananmen Square. Fighter jets flew over spectators who waved Chinese flags.
The display highlighted Beijing’s ambition for strategic influence to match its status as the second-largest global economy, even as Xi’s government suppresses dissent that illustrates the tensions between a closed, one-party dictatorship and a rapidly evolving society.
Those strategic goals include displacing the United States as the Pacific region’s dominant power and enforcing potentially volatile claims to Taiwan, the South China Sea and other disputed territories.
“No force can stop the progress of the Chinese people,” said Xi, was joined on the Tiananmen rostrum by Premier Li Keqiang, former Presidents Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin and other party figures. Authorities said the event would include 15,000 troops, more than 160 aircraft and 580 pieces of military equipment.
The parade commemorated the Oct. 1, 1949, founding of the People’s Republic of China by then-leader Mao Zedong following a civil war with the Nationalist government, which retreated to Taiwan. China’s Communists are closing in on the 74-year record of the former Soviet Communist Party as the longest-ruling Marxist-Leninist party.
The display of “high-quality weapons” is meant to show Beijing is on track to “rejuvenate China in the global arena,” Henry Boyd, a military analyst at the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London, told The Associated Press
“The message is, this is a great power to be taken seriously,” Boyd said. “It is not to be treated as an inferior.”
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam attended the Beijing parade with a delegation of Hong Kong officials and dignitaries in a show of unity with the ruling party.
Xi, wearing a gray Mao jacket, rode in an open-topped limousine past dozens of rows of truck-mounted missiles, armored personnel carriers and other military gear.
Soldiers in helmets and combat gear shouted, “Hello, leader!” and “Serve the people!” Xi replied, “Hello, comrades.”
Supported by China’s economic boom, military spending has risen 400 percent over the past decade as Beijing tries to match the United States, Russia and Europe in weapons technology. Foreign analysts say China is, along with the United States, a leader in unmanned aircraft and is catching up in missiles and some other areas.
The parade “aims to show the outside world China’s confidence” and ability to protect its “overseas interests,” said Yue Gang, a retired army colonel and military commentator.
Despite “great improvements,” China “should not relax vigilance and needs to continue to make efforts,” Yue said.
The People’s Liberation Army, the world’s biggest military with 2 million men and women in uniform, also is working on fighter planes, the first Chinese-built aircraft carrier and a new generation of nuclear-powered submarines.
A closely watched weapon unveiled Tuesday was the Dongfeng-17, a nuclear-armed glider that foreign analysts say is designed to maneuver at high speed to evade anti-missile defenses. That could help counter American systems like those deployed in South Korea and Japan.
Another was an unmanned aircraft dubbed Sharp Sword that, if equipped with bombs or missiles, would be the first combat drone developed by a power other than the U.S. and its European allies.
Drones have “become an indispensable weapon” for Chinese forces, said Song Zhongping, a military analyst.
Beijing’s emphasis on missiles and other long-range weapons reflects expanding official ambitions to project power beyond Chinese shores after decades of its forces being confined to land.
Analysts say the long-range H-6N bomber, shown for the first time Tuesday, could be used to attack U.S. or other forces in the Pacific.
Another missile displayed, the Dongfeng-41, is believed to have the world’s longest range at up to 9,400 miles. Analysts say it may be able to reach the United States in as little as 30 minutes and carry as many as 10 warheads to hit separate targets.
The soldiers and military hardware were followed by 70 floats celebrating China’s economic achievements and former Communist leaders.
China’s military spending last year was the world’s second-highest at an estimated $250 billion, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. The United States, with a force of 1.3 million, led in spending at $650 billion, or more than 2½ times China’s level.
China’s nuclear arsenal has about 280 warheads, compared with 6,450 for the United States and 6,850 for Russia, according to SIPRI. Beijing says it wants a “minimum credible nuclear deterrent” but won’t be the first to use atomic weapons in a conflict.
The Communist Party’s hold on power appears to be secure three decades after it crushed pro-democracy protests centered on Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Beijing is trying to shore up cooling economic growth and prevent politically dangerous job losses amid a tariff war with Washington over trade and technology that has battered Chinese exporters.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.