China’s celebrations to mark 70 years of the People’s Republic

A man and a boy look at the Tiananmen Gate from a sightseeing bus on Changan Avenue ahead of the 70th founding anniversary of People's Republic of China in Beijing, China, on 16 September 2019.

A man and a boy look at the Tiananmen Gate from a sightseeing bus on Changan Avenue ahead of the 70th founding anniversary of People's Republic of China in Beijing, China, on 16 September 2019. File photo/Reuters/Tingshu Wang

By Ben Blanchard | Reuters

BEIJING, China, 26 September 2019

Chinese President Xi Jinping will oversee a massive military parade through central Beijing on 1 October to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

It is China’s most important and high-profile event of the year. The government has taken no chances, shutting down parts of the city for rehearsals and tightening security as it readies for a show of might and pageantry.

Here is what the anniversary is about and what will happen.

Rebirth from civil war

Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic from atop Beijing’s Gate of Heavenly Peace on 1 October 1949, at the tail end of a vicious civil war with the Nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek, in which millions died.

Chiang and the remains of his government fled to Taiwan that December after a last stand in southern China failed.

With the country in ruins, Mao embarked upon an ambitious rebuilding project with the help of the Soviet Union, as China was largely isolated from the Western world and especially the United States, which retained ties with Chiang in Taiwan, recognising his as the legal Chinese government.

Since embarking on landmark reforms beginning in the late 1970s, the country has emerged from isolation to become the world’s second-largest economy.

Xi has made national renewal a central theme of his administration, wanting the country to become a respected and wealthy member of the international community.

Critics, including many Western politicians, say that campaign has come at the expense of a crackdown on civil rights and the locking up of perhaps 1 million Uyghurs, a mostly Muslim ethnic minority, in China’s at times violence-torn far western region of Xinjiang.

Sensitive date

All anniversaries in China are sensitive, with the party eager to control the narrative and not let dissenting voices spoil the atmosphere.

In the case of the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown this June, the government sought to quash any remembrances, lest they remind people of the party’s often bloody past.

This year’s National Day is extra sensitive, as 1 October is also a holiday in the Chinese territory of Hong Kong, which has been roiled by mass pro-democracy protests for the past three months.

It is unclear what will happen in Hong Kong on 1 October, but the party will be hoping the world sees images of orderly troop formations and dancing civilians in Beijing rather than huge protests in Hong Kong.

On 1 October

The highlight of the day will be a military parade through central Beijing, overseen by Xi, who will also give a speech.

The military will show off new equipment, which is expected to include the Dongfeng-41 intercontinental ballistic missile that may be able to carry several nuclear warheads and reach the United States, supersonic drones, fighter jets and tanks, according to Chinese state media.

China has not invited foreign leaders, but foreign ambassadors based in Beijing will attend. Retired Chinese leaders will be on the podium with Xi, perhaps including former president Jiang Zemin, who at 93 is still active behind the scenes.

Ordinary citizens will not be allowed to attend, and Beijing will be locked down. The party will hand-pick the crowd watching from the square and participating in the civilian parts of the parade after evaluating potential attendees for loyalty and reliability.

The 1 October marks the start of a weeklong national holiday, one of the country’s two “golden week” vacations, when tourist sites across China are packed and Chinese travellers flock abroad.

Uncertainty ahead

Soon after the National Day holiday ends, the party and government are in for a busy few weeks.

Chinese negotiators are set to head to Washington for trade talks early in the month, and the party will in October hold a key closed-door meeting of its senior leadership – formally called a plenum – though the date has not been set.

In November, Xi will go to South America for a BRICS summit in Brazil and then APEC in Chile, probably the next opportunity for him to meet US President Donald Trump, assuming he also attends. Trump skipped last year’s APEC meeting in Papua New Guinea.

China’s slowing economy adds to the clouds on the horizon for Xi, and more supportive measures could be rolled out before the end of 2019. But Beijing is not expected to throw open the credit floodgates yet, wary of plunging the country further into debt.

In January, self-ruled and proudly democratic Taiwan, claimed by the party as China’s sacred territory since 1949, holds presidential elections.

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