This is not simple math like finding the value of x in the equation x+2=10. This is much more complex, with all the calculus symbols such as dy/dx, epsilon and derivative of derivatives appearing in one big equation. It may be even like the game ‘Go’, which the Chinese know how to play.
Well, we are talking about yesterday’s massive show of force by China, the superpower 2.0, at the ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in Asia or Japan’s defeat, for which 14 million Chinese paid with their lives – an underreported casualty figure second only to Russia’s 20 million.
The calculus proportion confusion is because China appears to be mysteriously hawkish and dovish at the same time, engaging in rocket-rattling with the very nations with whom it seeks improved trade relations and closer economic ties. On the one hand it goes with the West in matters such as the Iran nuclear deal and the Ukrainian crisis. But on the other, it defeats and frustrates the West’s efforts to punish countries such as Russia, Syria, Sudan and Zimbabwe over alleged human rights violations or war crimes. In short, China’s economic equation considers even the enemy as a friend. The military equation takes a totally different outlook with a different set of rules, though in both equations, the decisive or the Highest Common factor, to use the math terminology, is China’s national interest.
Military vehicles carrying DF-21D missiles are displayed in a military parade at Tiananmen Square in Beijing yesterday, to mark the 70th anniversary of victory over Japan and the end of World War II. AFP
The Beijing ceremony which showcased the latest weapons in China’s arsenal sent a subtle but tough message to all those who had miscalculated China’s strength and failed to show due respect.
On show were Dongfeng 21D missiles, also known as carrier killers, which are capable of destroying an aircraft carrier warship with one hit. Also paraded were Dongfeng 26 and Intercontinental Ballistic missiles such as Dongfeng 5B and Dongfeng 31A with their range varying from 1,000 km to 4,000 km plus. The United States, take note. Your aircraft carriers and military bases in the Indian and Pacific Oceans are no longer safe. These medium and long range missiles have a low trajectory and therefore are difficult to intercept.
Also on display at the well-choreographed ceremony -- with even the usually smoggy skies over Beijing being turned into a clear blue sky -- were attack aircraft and state-of-the-art battle tanks – all made in China. Almost 85 percent of these weapons were shown to the public for the first time.
China, which is today the world’s third largest arms seller, was not showing off these weapons only to win new customers. Most of these weapons are strategic assets, the secrets of which China won’t let anyone know and therefore are not on sale. These weapons carry a deterrent value in that they dissuade China’s neighbours from becoming bold or adventurous over territorial disputes. They tell the US that President Barak Obama’s Pivot East military strategy aimed at checking China’s military growth is all but a futile exercise.
But these signals were couched in President Xi Jinping’s message just before the start of the military parade. Perhaps, Xi believes that peace can be brought about by the mere display of China’s military might. He told yesterday’s ceremony at Tiananmen Square that he would cut troop levels by 300,000 or 13 percent of China’s 2.3 million strong military – the world’s number one in terms of troop strength.
“Prejudice and discrimination, hatred and war can only cause disaster and pain. China will always uphold the path of peaceful development,” he said.
The message from Tiananmen Square was directed not so much at the nation as it was at the big powers, especially the United States, Japan, Australia and other states which are not comfortable with China’s economic and military rise in recent years. China has in recent months resorted to assertive diplomacy and military tactics to claim ownership of islands in the South China Sea and East China Sea and in the process soured relations with Japan, the Philippines and many other neighbours.
But in today’s military terms, slashing troop levels is by no means a pacifist move. In modern warfare, the size of the Army is not an important factor. What matters is the lethality of the weapons or their ability to make the enemy shudder, sharper intelligence gathering skills, one-upmanship in cyber warfare and smart diplomacy and money power to win and sustain allies. China has most, if not all, of these features that make a superpower. That’s why there were 30 world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and South Korean President Park Geun-hye at the ceremony. Although most Western leaders shunned the ceremony, probably due to the presence of Putin, they were represented at low level. Shockingly, there was none from Sri Lanka, which only a few months back was seen as one of the closest allies of China. Whether there was an invitation in the first place or whether Sri Lanka declined to participate, like North Korea did, may give an indication as to the status of Beijing’s relations with the new government in Colombo.
Yesterday’s ceremony came at a time when China’s economy was experiencing a slowdown, with stock markets taking a plunge. Thus some analysts say the parade offered President Xi a welcome distraction from the domestic problems.
It also comes at a time when Japan’s nationalist Prime Minister Shinto Abe, worried about China’s military might, is moving to increase the country’s defence budget and bring constitutional amendments to set up a standing army, while Australia pushes for a grand anti-China coalition including India, Japan and the US among others.
It also comes against the backdrop of China’s rising influence in Central Asia, across which China’s modern silk route – a network of highways to Europe -- is taking shape, while its blue water navy which is now capable of going even to the Arctic and defending international sea lanes, especially those in the Indian Ocean emerges as the defender of the Maritime Silk Route.
The military message apart, the Western leaders by their absence squandered an opportunity to turn yesterday’s Beijing event into a gathering for peace. A war involving big powers certainly spells doom for the entire planet, with the possibility of nuclear warfare looming large. The best tribute to those 14 million Chinese who died during Japan’s occupation of China and World War II should not come in the form of military parades, but as measures aimed at preventing war. It is still not too late for China to take the leadership and convene an international peace conference to sort out territorial disputes with its neighbours. After all, a superpower should also be a responsible power.