This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
The ruling Chinese Communist Party rolled out its latest tanks, ballistic missiles and supersonic drones on Tuesday in a massive military parade marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China on Oct. 1, 1949.
President Xi Jinping viewed the spectacle, which included a march-past of 15,000 People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops and a fly-past of 160 aircraft, from the rostrum of Tiananmen Gate, from where late supreme leader Mao Zedong proclaimed the People’s Republic in 1949.
The parade included China’s new DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missiles, which can carry up to 10 nuclear warheads to any point in United States territory.
The parade was the final set piece in a mass outpouring of official party ideology and nationalistic propaganda in the run-up to the Golden Week national holiday.
China’s WZ-8 supersonic drone, assault vehicles and armored cars from the Falcon Commando Unit also made an appearance, along with the next-generation 99A battlefield tanks, state news agency Xinhua reported.
Xi said in a speech at the start of the parade that China only seeks “peaceful development” and that the two-million-strong PLA will “firmly uphold world peace.”
Hu Ping, honorary editor of the U.S.-based Chinese-language political magazine Beijing Spring, said the Communist Party under Xi had increasingly tapped into nationalistic sentiment to keep its 1.3 billion citizens on side amid growing economic hardship and global uncertainty.
“Nationalism is a long-standing thing in China,” Hu said. “Nationalism is a foundation, but it doesn’t tell us what a particular ruling class is going to do with a country.”
Hu said communist parties have typically subscribed to internationalism, a view that wants governments to work with other socialist countries and spread communism beyond their borders.
“Now, communism is politically bankrupt, so the Chinese Communist Party talks less about that stuff,” he said.
Nationalism as sole ideological weapon
Yiran Pei, visiting scholar at the U.S. Institute For Advanced Study, said that Chinese nationalism instead focuses on glorifying the “motherland” through state propaganda, including patriotic hymns and homegrown blockbuster movies, as a way of resisting “Western” values like human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
“The Chinese Communist Party has found that there is no more effective ideological weapon against Western, that is to say European and American [political] values, than nationalism,” Pei said.
“It has no good weapons in the field of ideology, so it has relied on national humiliation since the Opium Wars in 1840 to emotionally manipulate its people to hate everything foreign, or to hate the U.S.,” he said.
“There are still a lot of people in China who subscribe to this kind of thinking, which is a basic kind of thinking seen during the Boxer Rebellion,” he said, referring to a 1900 uprising in northern China against the spread of Western and Japanese influence there.
Hu said Xi’s style of leadership is the first time a Chinese leader has consciously imitated late supreme leader Mao Zedong, whose tomb he visited on Monday, the eve of National Day.
“The day before Oct. 1, Xi Jinping went to pay tribute to Mao Zedong’s legacy,” Hu said. “While Xi may not want a return to the Mao era … he seems to set more store by Mao Zedong than his predecessors, Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin … And of course he imitates Mao Zedong’s leadership style through personal dictatorship.”
But Hu said China owed its economic success to a number of historical accidents, rather than to a successful model that could be exported elsewhere.
“It has created a serious challenge to universal values [of democracy, human rights and the rule of law] by relying on its successes,” Hu said.
Pei said Tuesday‘s parade and the flood of nationalistic propaganda coming out of Beijing belied a lack of confidence in the China model, however.
“The current generation of the Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China, members of the Politburo, etc., actually have no confidence,” he said. “They are just posing.”
“This kind of confidence is actually confidence in autocratic rule; confidence in repression,” he said. “If that [political] pressure went away, maybe people would change their minds.”