A sea of red washed over Tiananmen Square amid a fanfare to China’s military might.
Floats, flags and banners were decked out in the country’s favorite color during three hours of celebrations for the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
What followed on from the show of strength was a massive civilian procession, watched over by a smiling President Xi Jinping, dressed for the occasion in a Chairman Mao-style suit.
Homage was paid to the leaders of the past with pride of place going to the Great Helmsman and Deng Xiaoping, the architect of the country’s economic miracle.
In the smog-choked skies, a barrage of balloons pierced the gray blanket hanging over the kaleidoscope of hues below.
Yet away from the cacophony of patriotic fever, there was more than a hint of nationalistic rhetoric.
“China’s yesterday has been written into history, China’s tomorrow will be even better. Our whole Party will endeavor to unite and not forget our mission,” Xi said. “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.”
Maybe, the last remark was aimed at a growing feeling of unease from its Asian neighbors about China’s military presence in the South and East China Seas?
Maybe, it was a warning to Washington before talks resume next week to end the year-long trade war with the United States?
Maybe, it was also a parting shot to protest ravaged Hong Kong and democratic Taiwan, who have failed to be seduced by the ruling Communist Party of China?
“Forging ahead, we must remain committed to the strategy of peaceful reunification, and ‘One Country, Two Systems,” Xi said. “[We will] advance peaceful development of cross-strait relations, unite the whole country and continue to strive forward the complete unification of our country.
“Unity is iron and steel; unity is a source of strength,” he added in a separate speech on Monday night.
The “iron and steel” reference was there for the world to witness.
Massed troops from the three services of the People’s Liberation Army marched alongside a bristling array of hardware, including the Dongfeng-41, an intercontinental ballistic missile containing 10 warheads.
With a range of 14,000 kilometers or 8,699 miles, it can reach the entire United States. Tucked in behind was the hypersonic DF-17, which is believed to be capable of breaching existing anti-missile shields deployed by the US and its allies.
Above, there were stealth fighters screaming through the air, juxtapositioning the goose-stepping soldiers on the ground.
Perched in a black limousine, Xi bellowed: “Hello comrades, hard-working comrades!”
In response, they shouted back: “Follow the Party! Fight to win! Forge exemplary conduct!”
It was pure theater mixed with political dogma. “The Party hopes that this occasion will add to its legitimacy and rally support at a time of internal and external challenges,” Adam Ni, a China researcher at Macquarie University in Sydney, told the AFP news agency.
Still, before a single goose-step had been taken, the state-run media were brandishing the “New China” credentials and highlighting the trade dispute between Beijing and Washington.
The China Daily concluded in an editorial to celebrate this day of days:
“As a beneficiary of the globalized world economy, China has every reason to further its opening-up – to shorten the list of sectors that are not open to foreign investment, to implement a new law to facilitate foreign investment, to gradually open its insurance and financial sectors to foreign investment and so on.
“When China and its people celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of New China, the world should be assured that it will have an even more open and inclusive China standing on the side of multilateralism and free trade.”
The Global Times, owned by the official newspaper of the Communist Party, the People’s Daily, was slightly more graphic. Naturally, this was in keeping with the tabloid’s propaganda principles:
“China is marching forward steadily despite the ups and downs in 70 years. The military parade in the morning and grand gala in the evening will show China’s new image, which will bring positive energy and influence to a complicated world.”
Yet, it was left to President Xi for the final word when he came to the end of his short speech from the Gate of Heavenly Peace. “Long live the great Communist Party of China. And long live the great Chinese people!”
The first remark sounded like a death knell to those calling for political change inside Xi’s “New China.”