China celebrates 70th anniversary as Xi warns ‘no force can shake this great nation’ | World news


China has celebrated 70 years of Communist party rule and its rise to global superpower status with a military parade in Beijing showcasing the country’s latest technology, and a promise from President Xi Jinping that “no force can shake the foundation of this great nation”.

But protests in Hong Kong looked set to cast a long shadow over Beijing’s carefully-choreographed projection of national unity.

China’s leadership past and present gathered on a viewing platform over Tiananmen Square on Tuesday to watch the military parade of 15,000 troops and weapons including new hypersonic drones and ballistic missiles that can reach the United States.

It was followed by a civilian parade, featuring tributes to national icons from founding leader Mao Zedong and the bicycles China was known for before it became an economic juggernaut, to the cities that have sprung up since the reforms of the 1980s.

Xi who has spent years consolidating his grip on power to become perhaps the most influential leader since Mao himself, launched the celebrations with a speech that underlined China’s economic rise and the party’s role in fostering it.

“There is no force that can shake the foundation of this great nation. No force can stop the Chinese people and the Chinese nation forging ahead,” he said.

“China’s yesterday has been written into history, China’s tomorrow will be even better. Our whole party will endeavour to unite and not forget our mission,” he said.

The march-past began with helicopters flying overhead carrying the communist party, state and military flags; the order offering a further hint at the Chinese leadership’s priorities.

Planes from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) air force fly in formation during a massive parade to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China

Planes from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) air force fly in formation during a massive parade to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China Photograph: Wang He/Getty Images

For the party, this is one of the most consequential national day celebrations. The state it controls has now outlived the Soviet Union that was once its sponsor and supporter; Chinese officials for years have studied the collapse of the USSR in a bid to avoid a similar fate for the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

But the anniversary also comes as Beijing faces perhaps its most serious challenges since the 40th national day in 1989. That was marked in muted fashion just months after the military killed thousands of pro-democracy protesters in and around Tiananmen square, plunging the country into international isolation.

Today a trade war with the US threatens both the American and Chinese economies, there is growing international unease at Xi’s aggressive projection of power beyond China’s borders, and domestic problems belie attempts to unite China’s 1.4 billion people around the president’s vision of a ‘Chinese Dream’.

In addition to unrest in Hong Kong, and growing support for anti-Beijing politicians in Taiwan – the self-ruled island China claims as part of its territory – there has been growing international concern about the detention of over a million people in far Western Xinjiang region.

After more than 20 years of civil war, Mao Zedong leads the communists to victory over the nationalists, and proclaims the founding of the People’s Republic of China on 1 October.

China launches a five-year economic plan, the “Great Leap Forward”,  collectivising farming and investing in heavy industry. The plan is abandoned after two years after poor harvests lead to starvation and millions of deaths.

The 10-year “Cultural Revolution” causes economic and political upheaval, as Mao attempts to purge communist China of remaining capitalist and traditional elements of society, and enforce Maoism as the dominant and permanent ideology.

China’s “one-child policy” is introduced to curb population growth.

The opening of the Shanghai and  Shenzhen stock exchanges symbolise the increasing economic liberalisation of China.

Control of Hong Kong is handed back to China from the UK. Two years later Portugal transfers the sovereignty of Macau back to the Chinese.

China joins the World Trade Organization.

Yang Liwei becomes the first Chinese astronaut. Within 10 years the country will successfully deploy a robot rover on the moon.

After years of tension, including riots over how Japanese schoolbooks are accused of portraying the events of the second world war, and tensions over territorial claims in the South China Sea, Wen Jiabao becomes the first Chinese prime minister to address Japan’s parliament.

Beijing hosts the Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games.

China overtakes Germany as the world’s biggest exporter of goods. The following year it becomes the world’s second-largest economy, over-taking Japan.

The Chinese economic “miracle” falters, as growth falls to its lowest level for 25 years.

China becomes increasingly embroiled in a trade war with the US.

A series of major pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong challenge Chinese rule there. The country’s human rights record also comes under scrutiny for its treatment of the Uighurs, with claims that more than 1 million of them have been detained in camps the Chinese have euphemistically called “vocational education centres”.

Xi in his speech emphasised the “joy and happiness” of “all ethnic groups in China” about the anniversary celebrations, and promised to “maintain the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong and Macau.

“[We must] advance the peaceful development of cross-state relations and continue to strive for the complete reunification of our country.”

Months of protests in Hong Kong have shown that not all Chinese citizens support the direction in which the communist party is taking the country, however, effectively offering economic prosperity without political freedoms.

Activist Joshua Wong on Twitter called for international support for protests in Hong Kong, which were denied a police permit but are expected to go ahead anyway. “No celebration, only demonstration”, he said, warning that China was using Hong Kong to “wave its claws at the free world to step up its oppression.”

Military vehicles roll down as members of a Chinese military honour guard march during the parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of Communist China in Beijing

Military vehicles roll down as members of a Chinese military honour guard march during the parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of Communist China in Beijing Photograph: Ng Han Guan/AP

In Beijing, Chinese authorities had left nothing to chance in their meticulous planning for the biggest national anniversary since Xi came to power.

The capital was put on lockdown, with bans on everything from kites and homing pigeons to drones. People who live along the parade route have lived with curfews all week, and were asked to leave their homes ahead of national day.

Xi hewed to tradition, wearing a grey Mao suit and inspecting troops from a Chinese-made Red Flag limousine. He watched the parade from the same spot where Mao stood to announce the establishment of the PRC on October 1, 1949.

Then China was so poor and battered by civil war that some of its 17 war planes were reportedly ordered to fly by twice, to make the airforce seem larger than it was.

To prevent anything marring the special day, there has also been a fierce crackdown among those who criticise the government.

Normally outspoken activists and critics have been ordered not to speak to foreign media. Some, who have expressed support for the Hong Kong protests, have had to promise they won’t travel to the city until well after the anniversary.

In Hong Kong, official celebrations were muted, including a morning flag raising ceremony closed to the public, with guests and dignitaries watching from a live broadcast inside a conference centre, where a reception was held afterwards.

Chief executive Carrie Lam was in Beijing, one of the very few senior women watching the parade from the VIP platform overlooking Tiananmen square.

A small group of demonstrators gathered outside the conference centre with a banner saying “There is no national celebration, only national mourning. End one party rule”.

Larger protests linked to the city’s nearly four-month old movement were expected in the afternoon. At least eleven of Hong Kong’s metro stations were closed to prevent people gathering along protest routes, and across the city many shopping centres will shut to avoid becoming battlegrounds.

Police arrested a number of people ahead of the protests on suspicion of conspiracy to make offensive weapons, Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) reported. At least four people were detained, on demonstrator told the Guardian.

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