China marked its 35th anniversary of Communist rule today with a rare display of military strength and a renewed pledge to reunify Taiwan peacefully, highlighting a parade of 500,000 participants celebrating the pragmatic rule of Deng Xiaoping.
The parade at the Gate of Heavenly Peace provided the first glimpse of China's strategic weapons as well as a broad range of artillery, armor and missiles -- all said to be of Chinese design.
Western military analysts said most of the equipment was outdated but of good quality. Recent advances spotted by experts include a truck-mounted weapon apparently designed to sow mines in the path of advancing tanks, underwater submarine-launched missiles, a new tank gun, sea-based cruise missiles and whip antennas fitted on tracked vehicles to improve communications of tactical units.
Led by 6,000 goose-stepping soldiers in new uniforms, the martial pageantry -- the first of its kind here since 1959 -- is seen as a bid by Deng to cement military support for his reform policies after years of rear-guard sniping.
Deng, 80, chairman of the party's military commission and China's preeminent political figure, reviewed the troops from the front seat of a Red Flag limousine convertible and devoted part of his brief National Day speech to the need for stronger defenses.
But Deng, speaking from the historic gate where Mao Tse-tung declared the founding of Communist China in 1949, tempered his military pitch with conciliatory tones for the Nationalist Chinese, who lost the mainland 35 years ago and fled to Taiwan.
"We stand for peaceful reunification with Taiwan," he said, alluding to his five-year-old offer of autonomy for the capitalist island after reuniting with the mainland.
"Our policy in this regard is known to all and will not change," he said, his raspy voice booming onto the crowded square across from the gate guarding the southern approach to the former Imperial Palace.
"It is rooted in the hearts of all descendants of the Yellow Emperor," he said, referring to the third of China's mythological emperors, Huang Ti, born around 2704 B.C. "An irresistible trend, the peaceful reunification of our motherland, will sooner or later come true."
His speech kicked off the two-hour parade, a spectacle complete with helium-filled balloons, dragon dances, a flock of 10,000 pigeons and 105 floats underlining China's achievements under the six-year leadership of Deng and his fellow Communist modernizers.
The event was often marked by irony, with capitalist slogans of Deng's China -- such as "time is money, efficiency is life" -- passing by large portraits of communist heroes from Marx to Stalin.
There were floats of peasants in western-style suits carrying placards of praise for Deng's policy of household farming; of computers and color television to show the benefits of his open-door trade policy; of students bearing signs in English, saying, "knowledge is strength," and of a hand-waving robot symbolizing technological breakthroughs.
"The whole country has taken on a new look," declared Deng, peering over a portrait of Mao, whose radical policies crippled China for much of the past 35 years.
"We have placed socialist modernization above everything else in our work," he said. "Our primary job at present is to reform systematically whatever is impeding our progress in existing economic structures."
It was the military, however, that received the greatest attention on this National Day, with the largest and most prominent contingent of the parade.
Diplomats believe the dominant role assigned to the 4.2-million-member armed forces was designed to boost morale and publicly link the conservative military with Deng's modernization program.
Old-line military figures schooled in Mao's style of communism are reported to be Deng's most potent rivals, opposing his appeasement of old Nationalist Chinese enemies, his opening to the West and his preference for production of consumer goods over guns.
But all branches of the armed forces showed total fealty today, saluting crisply as they marched by the speakers rostrum where Deng and other members of China's leadership were standing.
Their weapons followed in a demonstration of strength seen as a bid for national pride.
Most spectacular was the display of China's strategic force, unveiled for the first time publicly 20 years after scientists successfully detonated a nuclear device. Three examples each were shown of the intercontinental ballistic missile, medium-range ballistic missile and intermediate-range ballistic missile.
The ICBMs, which are thought to be armed with five-megaton warheads having a range of 8,000 miles, were mounted on three separate trucks because of their huge size. The smaller missiles were carried on single trucks.
Of particular interest to western specialists were two weapons resembling Israeli prototypes -- a new tank gun similar to Israel's 105-mm gun and what appeared to be a sea-launched cruise missile similar to Israel's Gabriel.
China and Israel have no diplomatic relations, and Peking has denied buying military equipment from the Israelis. But it has close ties to Arab states that have captured Israeli arms.
Other items of interest cited by foreign analysts include two types of self-propelled howitzers with ranges estimated to reach 18 miles. One seemed to be of 122 caliber and was mounted on a standard Chinese armored personnel carrier. The other appeared to be of 152 caliber and was mounted on a large, tanklike, tracked body, the analysts said.
"It was a very impressive display of equipment," one military observer said. "It demonstrates a pretty good capacity in terms of standards of manufacturing."