BEIJING (AP) – China’s military has the “confidence and capability” to bolster the country’s rise into a world power, President Xi Jinping said Sunday as he oversaw a large-scale military parade meant to show off China’s fighting prowess.
Live state television broadcasts showed Xi, dressed in fatigues and speaking from an open-top jeep, telling his troops that China needed a strong military “more than ever” as it moved “closer to the goal of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”
Xi, who commands the People’s Liberation Army as chairman of the Central Military Commission, has frequently spoken of his “China Dream” to restore China to a leadership position in international affairs with a modern, far-reaching military force to match.
Xi inspected troops, armored vehicles and conventional and nuclear missiles, hailing each formation by shouting “Comrades, you’ve worked hard!”
The parade at the Zhurihe military training base in China’s Inner Mongolia region marked the 90th anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army’s founding. It was the first time a parade has been held to mark the occasion.
Long criticized as a corrupt bureaucracy with scant combat experience, the PLA has undergone reforms and an ambitious modernization program to make it a leaner force capable of projecting power overseas.
Hundreds of thousands of troops have been cut from the world’s largest standing army while the PLA has invested heavily in aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines and stealth fighters with the goal of surpassing the United States in regional and even global influence.
Although China has framed its growing military as a force for stability and peace, its expanding footprint and assertive posture in contested regions like the South China Sea has worried small neighboring nations.
Domestically, Xi has taken steps to enhance his control over the PLA, just as he has over every other political power base within the sprawling Communist Party.
Despite the military establishment’s clout, he has not shied from ordering anti-corruption campaigns that took down top-ranking generals and creating new battle theaters that placed trusted officers in command and shunted aside others.
To reinforce his political position, Xi has extracted televised vows of loyalty from top generals while holding frequent events to show his affinity and support for the military, including a troop inspection in Hong Kong in June and a ceremony to present citations to 10 officers last week.
Xi again issued a demand for loyalty on Sunday, instructing his amassed troops to “unswervingly stick to the fundamental principle and system of the party’s absolute leadership over the army.”
“Always listen to and follow the party’s orders,” Xi said. “And march to wherever the party points to.”