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China’s WWII military parade a show of strength

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Visitors walk by old army tanks parked outside the Chinese Military museum in Beijing, on August 29, 2015/AFP

Visitors walk by old army tanks parked outside the Chinese Military museum in Beijing, on August 29, 2015/AFP

BEIJING, China, Sep 1 – Soldiers will march, gleaming hardware will roll, and warplanes will fly above Tiananmen Square at China’s WWII anniversary parade, but major Western leaders are shunning the show as Beijing assumes an increasingly assertive role on the global stage.

Chinese authorities are pulling out all the stops for Thursday’s commemoration, mobilising hundreds of thousands of Beijing citizens, imposing traffic restrictions – including closing the capital’s airports – and curtailing pollution-spewing factories and vehicles to try to ensure blue skies.

President Xi Jinping will oversee the spectacle to mark the 70th anniversary of the “Chinese People’s War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression and the World Anti-Fascist War”, as Beijing officially calls the conflict.

China is increasingly influential in the world, where it is already the second-largest economy and sees itself as a “great power” equal to the United States.

But the chest-pumping display comes as Beijing is engaged in high-profile maritime disputes with neighbours in the South China Sea, where it is building artificial islands and facilities with military uses, and with Japan over disputed outcrops.

It also coincides awkwardly with increasing doubts about the capability of Xi and the country’s other leaders to manage a growth slowdown that has spooked domestic and foreign financial markets.

Absent will be key leaders from Western democracies such as US President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and, least surprisingly, nationalist Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

John Delury, an expert on Chinese history and politics at Yonsei University in Seoul, says Beijing very much wants to drive home its growing global importance.

“It’s a classic power projection,” Delury told AFP.

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“They’re trying to get as much attention as possible, showing off the might of a resurgent China, what Xi Jinping talks about: China is wealthy and powerful.”

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