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China Commemorates Japan's WWII Defeat With Military Parade


We're listening to the Chinese national anthem as played during a big anniversary. Seventy years ago, Japan formally surrendered in World War II. Japanese troops had occupied large parts of China throughout the war. This anniversary was about more than the past. China's leaders were delivering multiple messages to the world today. NPR's Frank Langfitt reports.


FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: It was a fabulously sunny day in Beijing. The government had shut down factories and put part of the city on lockdown to avoid the usual smog. President Xi Jinping stood on top of the ornate gate where Mao's portrait hangs. Looking out over Tienanmen Square, he tried to sound reassuring.


XI JINPING: (Through interpreter) We Chinese love peace. No matter how much stronger it may become, China will never seek hegemony or expansion. It will never inflict its past suffering on any other nation.

LANGFITT: President Xi was referring to the Japanese invasion of China during World War II, in which Chinese civilians were raped and slaughtered.


XI: (Speaking Chinese).

LANGFITT: Xi also announced China would cut 300,000 soldiers from its People's Liberation Army, but analysts say that's more an act of pragmatism than peace. Zhang Lifan is a Chinese historian.

ZHANG LIFAN: (Through interpreter) As the military modernizes itself, electronic warfare and information warfare are becoming more important, so the need for manpower is probably not as strong as before.

LANGFITT: While Xi spoke of cutting troops, the parade emphasized just how much China's invested in sophisticated weaponry. President Xi stood up through the sunroof of a black red-flagged limousine and road for more than a mile along the Avenue of Eternal Peace, reviewing a sea of soldiers and military hardware.


XI: (Speaking Chinese).

LANGFITT: "Hello, comrades," he said as he passed tanks painted in green camouflage and trucks loaded with missiles. About 750 miles to the South, here in Shanghai, Emma Zheng watched on a flat-screen TV. Enjoying the national holiday, the Shanghai University student had stopped by the site of the Communist Party's first Congress, now a museum.

EMMA ZHENG: (Through interpreter) The parade makes us proud of our country. It represents our nation's military strength. Of course our military development is only to guarantee that our citizens can continue to develop in a safe and peaceful environment.

LANGFITT: I ask how she thinks other countries in East Asia might react when they watch the parade, particularly the Japanese.

ZHENG: (Through interpreter) Those hawkish ones certainly will have a sense of crisis. If they are peace-loving, they will not find this particularly annoying. Let me put it this way, the parade may let people who want to invade our country and our land feel that we can't be easily bullied.

LANGFITT: The Chinese in disputes with Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam and other Southeast Asian nations over islands in the East and South China seas. Many people in those countries see China as the bully. I turned to Jung's roommate, Daisy Tan, who's also watching the parade, and asked what she thinks of the event, which is shot in a grand, cinematic style.

DAISY TAN: (Through interpreter) I don't know if you know a German documentary called "Triumph Of The Will." It's about Hitler. The way the documentary was shot was similar to this.

LANGFITT: Tan is referring to the film by German Propaganda's Leni Riefenstahl who documented the 1934 Nazi party rally in Nuremberg. Tan's not equating the two, just admiring the shared showmanship. Not everyone in China loved the parade. Zhang Lifan, the historian, said events like this are designed to distract citizens with nationalism.

LIFAN: (Through interpreter) Letting people love the nation can make them less interested in their own rights, their own incomes. These things will be overshadowed by a grand goal.

LANGFITT: The parade wasn't popular in parts of Southeast Asia either.

CHITO SANTA ROMANA: My name Chito Santa Romana. I lecture on Chinese politics now at the Asian Center at the University of the Philippines.

LANGFITT: Santa Romana spent nearly 40 years in China as a journalist. I spoke with him by Skype as he was sitting down to lunch.

SANTA ROMANA: It conveys a more threatening message, an effort to intimidate or to create a sense of fear.

LANGFITT: Santa Romana says the show of military muscle will only put more countries in the region on guard, something he says the Communist Party may come to regret. Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Shanghai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.
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