Chinese President Xi Jinping presided over a large-scale military parade at a remote north China base on Sunday at an event to mark 90 years since the founding of the People’s Liberation Army. China’s armed forces, the world’s largest, are in the midst of an ambitious modernisation programme, from restructuring to troop cuts and investment in technology and equipment upgrades, such as acquiring stealth fighters and aircraft carriers. Xi inspected troops from the back of a jeep at the Zhurihe training base in north China’s Inner Mongolia region, an event carried live on state television.
Travelling down a long strip lined with tanks, missile launchers and other military vehicles, Xi, wearing military fatigues, greeted thousands of troops. Xi, who oversees the PLA in his role as head of the powerful Central Military Commission, repeatedly shouted, “Hello comrades!” and “Comrades, you are working hard!” into four microphones fixed atop his motorcade as martial music blared in the background. It was the first time China has marked Army Day, which formally falls on Aug. 1, with a military parade since the Communist revolution in 1949, state news agency Xinhua said.
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China’s military is more nimble and technologically proficient following reforms to make it more compact and responsive, rather than just relying on strength of numbers, Xi said last week. China has not fought a war in decades and the government insists it has no hostile intent, simply needing the ability to properly defend what is now the world’s second-largest economy.
But China has rattled nerves around Asia and globally with its increasingly assertive stance in the East and South China Seas and its military modernization plan. The military reforms have not been uncontroversial, with unease in particular about the 300,000 troop cuts Xi announced in 2015 at a massive military parade through central Beijing to mark 70 years since the end of World War Two.