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China held its biggest display of military might in a parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of its victory over Japan in World War Two on Thursday, an event shunned by most Western leaders.
Burma’s President Thein Sein lined up alongside China’s President Xi Jinping in a show of solidarity with Beijing, just months after tensions peaked on their shared border.
In June China launched live fire exercises a stones throw from Burma’s restive Kokang region, where a fierce war between Burmese troops and Kokang rebels the Myanmar Democratic Alliance Army strained ties. China felt forced to flex its muscles after Burmese bombs strayed into Yunnan Province, killing five people.
China’s confidence in its armed forces and growing military assertiveness, especially in the disputed South China Sea, has rattled the region and drawn criticism from Washington.
More than 12,000 soldiers, mostly Chinese but with contingents from Russia and elsewhere, marched down Changan Avenue, led by veterans of World War Two carried in vehicles.
They were followed by ballistic missiles, tanks and armoured vehicles, many never seen in public before. Advanced fighter jets and bombers flew overhead in a highly-choreographed spectacle that lasted around 90 minutes.
Among the weapons China unveiled for the first time was an anti-ship ballistic missile, the Dongfeng-21D, which is reportedly capable of destroying an aircraft carrier with one hit.
Also shown were several intercontinental ballistic missiles such as the DF-5B and the DF-31A as well as the DF-26 intermediate range ballistic missile, dubbed the “Guam killer” in reference to a U.S. Pacific Ocean base.
For Xi, the parade was a welcome distraction from the country’s plunging stock markets, slowing economy and recent blasts at a chemical warehouse that killed at least 160 people.
Xi was joined by Russian President Vladimir Putin and leaders of several other nations with close ties to China, including Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who is wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court.
Most Western leaders rebuffed invitations to attend, diplomats said, unhappy about the guest list and wary of the message China would send with the show of strength.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did not attend the parade, which was held one day after the 70th anniversary of Tokyo’s surrender in World War Two.
China’s government repeatedly said the parade was not aimed at today’s Japan, but to remember the past and to remind the world of China’s huge sacrifices during the conflict.
Beijing was locked down to ensure nothing went wrong at the parade, with much of the downtown off-limits, a three-day holiday declared and ordinary people kept well away.