Chinese President Xi Jinping declared on Tuesday that “no force” could rattle his nation as it celebrated 70 years of Communist party rule by showcasing its military prowess in a highly choreographed parade of 15,000 troops and high-tech missiles and weaponry.
“There is no force that can shake the foundation of this great nation,” said Mr Xi, emphasising Chinese unity and development as he addressed his citizens and the world from Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, the symbolic seat of power.
“No force can stop the Chinese people and the Chinese nation forging ahead,” he told jubilant crowds waving the national flag during his eight-minute speech from the top of the Tiananmen Gate, where Chairman Mao Zedong announced the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949.
Hours later, however, huge and chaotic demonstrations by thousands of protesters in Hong Kong, and public shock after the police shooting of a teenager in the chest, threatened to steal President Xi’s thunder.
Ahead of the anticipated Hong Kong unrest, Mr Xi, dressed in a dark grey Mao suit for the meticulously planned occasion, had tried to steer the domestic and international narrative towards the triumph of Chinese nationalism that had lifted the nation of 1.4 billion from the “humiliation” of colonialism.
Briefly addressing the situation in Hong Kong, where pro-democracy protests have raged for four months, presenting the greatest popular challenge since he rose to power in 2012, he stressed that China was committed to “long term stability” and “to strive for the complete unification of our country.”
Mr Xi has grand ambitions to lead a unified China – to control semi-autonomous territories Hong Kong and Macau, as well as the democratic, self-governed Taiwan - as he steers the nation towards replacing the US as the dominant power in Asia-Pacific region.
At the core of his projection of power on Tuesday was the ostentatious three-hour long display of modern weapons that China has amassed in its armory, including a hypersonic-glide missile, the DF-17, that experts say could be difficult for the United States to counter.
The parade boasted new unmanned aerial vehicles, as well as the showpiece Dongfeng-41, an intercontinental missile capable of carrying multiple nuclear warheads, that could threaten American military assets in Asia as well as the US mainland.
The missile arsenal was a “force for realising the dream of a strong nation and strong military,” declared a state television announcer.
Mr Xi said that his country would stay on the path of “peaceful development,” but stressed that the military would resolutely safeguard the country’s sovereignty and security, before he entered a black limousine to inspect his troops, who bellowed: “Follow the party! Fight to win!”
The military spectacle was followed by a civilian parade, featuring symbols of the country’s economic achievements, and a ceremonial 56-cannon salute – to represent the country’s minority ethnic groups – was shot 70 times to mark the anniversary.
Ahead of the celebration, much of the capital was on lockdown, with roads sealed and radio signals blocked. However, curious citizens still made their way to the square to view the elaborate preparations.
A 34-year-old monk from Wenzhou, southeast China, who had a national flag sticker on his forehead, said he had traveled to almost all of China’s provinces over the past six months in honour of the 70th anniversary. “I went on the journey in celebration of the prosperity of our country,” he said.