BEIJING: Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday announced China will cut its number of troops by 300,000, as he kicked off a massive military parade marking 70 years since the end of World War Two in Asia.
Jinping’s pledge to cut China’s 2.3 million-member People’s Liberation Army (PLA) comes amid rising manpower costs and technological capabilities that reduce the need for large numbers of personnel.
Despite the cut, which will bring the headcount of the army down to about 2m, the PLA will remain the world’s largest standing military.
Once known for its human wave tactics in conflicts such as the Korean War, the PLA is increasingly focused on high-tech weaponry and projecting power abroad through its navy and air force.
For instance, the latest version of the PLA’s mainstay bomber, the H-6K, requires just a three-person crew ─ half its former complement.
Despite its huge numbers, the PLA hasn’t fought in a major conflict since a brief 1979 border war with Vietnam, although China has long been a major contributor to United Nations peacekeeping missions and since 2008 has joined in multi-nation anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden.
Xi gave no specific reason for the reduction in troops, but bracketed his announcement with assertions of the PLA’s mission to protect China and “uphold the sacred task of ensuring world peace.”
China will always go down the path of peaceful development, the Chinese president had said, speaking on a rostrum overlooking Tienanmen Square.
The announcement could be seen as an attempt to soften the impact of Thursday’s spectacle that saw 12,000 troops march through the centre of the Chinese capital, accompanied by tanks, bomber aircraft and intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Nearly one thousand foreign troops from seventeen countries are participating in the parade. Pakistan, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Mongolia, Serbia, Tajikistan, and Russia each have dispatched a 75-member formation to march in the parade, reported Radio Pakistan.
The parade was largely shunned by Japan, the United States and other major democracies who have grown concerned about China’s increasingly aggressive moves to assert its territorial claims in the South China Sea and elsewhere.
Jinping said that China’s “total victory” over Japan in World War Two had re-established it as a “major country”.
“The unyielding Chinese people fought gallantly and finally won total victory against the Japanese militarist aggressors, thus preserving China’s 5,000-year-old civilisation and upholding the cause of peace,” President Xi said, describing the conflict as “a decisive battle between justice and evil, between light and darkness”.
As 12,000 troops and hundreds of tanks and missiles rolled through Tienanmen Square in front of invited guests and foreign leaders, Beijing residents were barred from watching.
Barricades were set up hundreds of metres from the parade, and squads of police and blue-shirted volunteers blocked access to the deserted streets.
Residents whose homes overlooked the route itself were ordered not to go onto their balconies or even open their windows.
Crowds of around a hundred citizens gathered at intersections to try to catch a glimpse of the hardware as it rolled by in the distance, but were disappointed.
Former Chinese president Jiang Zemin appeared at the parade after rumours of destabilising infighting in the ruling Communist Party.
Jiang stepped down as party chief in 2002 and state president in 2003 but remained head of the military for another year after stacking the Politburo, one of the party’s elite ruling bodies, with his people. He remains influential to this day, though does not often appear in public.
Rumours periodically circulate in leadership and diplomatic circles about Jiang, especially about arguments between him and President Xi Jinping over policy, which, with China’s political system being as opaque and secretive as it is, are impossible to verify.
State television showed Jiang, looking a little frail but appearing otherwise healthy, standing on the main leaders’ rostrum overlooking Tienanmen Square, with his successor, Hu Jintao, standing next to him.
President Mamnoon Hussain, UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon were also present at the event, along with 30 other heads of state.
President Mamnoon during a meeting with the Chinese president in the Great Hall of the People on Wednesday assured his counterpart that almost all members of the Uighur militant group the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) had been eliminated from Pakistan.
Mamnoon told the Chinese leader that Operation Zarb-i-Azb had been successful in eradicating terrorism from Pakistan.