China Thursday paraded an array of its sophisticated weaponry including nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles and early warning planes, showing its growing military strength at Beijing's Tiananmen Square.
The People's Liberation Army (PLA) displayed 52 types of new homemade weapon systems, as part of the morning festivities to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. Ninety percent of the weapons were making their debut at the celebration, which is typically held every 10 years.
The PLA's most advanced early warning and control aircraft, J-10 and J-11 fighter jets, bombers and aerial tankers flew over the city before new-generation tanks spearheaded the ground formations.
Five types of missiles of the Second Artillery Force (SAF), the nation's core strategic deterrent established in 1966, were among the most eye-catching at the show. The SAF's land-based cruise missiles also made their debut. The conventional cruise missile is able to perform long-range low-altitude precision strikes. Also on rare public display were the SAF's three types of conventional missiles.
The military pageant comprised 14 units of marching soldiers, more than 500 vehicles and 151 aircraft.
While local media were excited about the weapon show, with military commentators invited to TV stations to interpret the significance of each gadget, world media, such as the Los Angeles Times, called it "a display of hardware."
The new generation of missiles could "potentially strike American naval ships and pound Taiwanese soil from the Chinese mainland,"the LA Times article said Thursday.
"New Chinese capabilities could undercut the protection the United States offers its allies in the region," the Washington Post quoted Richard Fisher Jr., a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, as saying.
"This is going to give the China-threat crowd in Washington ammunition," Wendell Minnick, Asia bureau chief for US-based Defense News, was quoted as saying Thursday by the Wall Street Journal.
Washington may see a threat in the Dongfeng 31 intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, which can be trucked around and is harder to target than silo-based missiles, Reuters said.
"It's definitely a demonstration of strength for the Americans and Taiwanese," Minnick told Reuters.
"The parade is a clear signal to Taiwan. The variety and quality of new arms on display has to be intimidating to Taiwan military officials," Minnick was quoted as saying.
Geremie Barme, a China scholar at the Australian National University who has studied past National Day
parades, said the displays are typically aimed at the domestic audience instead of showing off military muscle to the outside world, according to the Associated Press.
Defense policy unchanged
Military analysts say the defensive nature of China's defense policy does not change, regardless of its accomplishments.
Air Force Colonel Dai Xu said the parade was largely a ceremonial event and therefore does not necessarily indicate the true fighting capacity of the army.
"By equipment measure, China's military power is close to second class, such as those of Japan and Russia. The army lacks real war experience," Dai said.
Chinese military forces have long been developing amid an unfavorable international environment that is by all means seeking to deter and snuff out Beijing's military growth, Dai added.
"China's practice of developing its military without putting its armed forces in actual combat is detrimental to the development of the country's comprehensive military advancement, but the military is only a tool to serve China's political tasks, which is defensive in nature," Dai said.
Rear Admiral Zhang Zhaozhong, also a military professor at the Chinese National Defense University, said the display of the nation's latest main battle weaponry was a "demonstration of its tremendous achievements in military modernization."
Zhang downplayed concerns that the parade would fuel insecurity among neighboring countries, saying the transparency of China's latest weaponry development helped ease unnecessary worries.
Zhang denied that China was showing off its military might, calling the parade a significant event on National Day, and a practice that is common in other countries, including Russia, India and North Korea.
The debut of early warning aircraft, including the Kongjing-2000 and the smaller Kongjing-200, and the third-generation multi-role fighter aircraft J-10, added novelty to the much-anticipated parade, Zhang said.
Liu Yong, a senior editor of the Washington-based magazine China Security, said the military parade presented the military accomplishment of China over the last 10 years, during which the army has been transformed into a modernized force.
China implemented a military strategy of "active defense," according to the White Paper on China's National Defense in 2008.
Strategically, the country pursues a principle of defensive operations, self-defense, "attacking only after being attacked," and "defusing crises before they escalate into conflict."
Frenzy among the young
The parade seemed to spark military frenzy among some, including Wen Jian, a civil servant who booked a hotel room with windows facing Chang'an Avenue, where the troops paraded.
"The equipment on display was within my expectations, as I followed the news quite closely. But the visual impact was just overwhelming," Wen told the Global Times.
In August 1900, the eight-power allied forces of Britain, the United States, Germany, France, Russia, Japan, Italy and Austria lined up in Tiananmen Square for a military review after they forced their way into Beijing and looted the 3,000-year-old city.
"That was one of the darkest moments in China's history–a huge humiliation. But I think that will never happen again. That's why we need a strong army and strong national defense," Tang Liang, a 23-year-old postgraduate majoring in rocket design at Beihang University, said after watching the parade on the Internet.
Kang Juan, Guo Qiang, Zhang Han and An Baijie contributed to this story