The display of new military technologies, including an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching anywhere in the United States, and the defiant rhetoric acted as Xi’s response to external pressures.
“There is no force that can shake the foundation of this great nation. No force can stop the Chinese people and Chinese nation forging ahead,” Xi said Tuesday morning in a speech delivered in Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing, on the spot where Mao stood seven decades before.
With multiple counter-rallies taking place in Hong Kong, where a large part of the population has been demonstrating against China’s encroaching influence, Xi also sent a message to the citizens there.
“Forging ahead, we must remain committed to the strategy of peaceful reunification and ‘One Country, Two Systems.’ We will maintain the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong and Macao,” Xi said, referring to the principle that Hong Kong and Macao have a degree of autonomy from Beijing.
Carrie Lam, the chief executive of Hong Kong who has been under fire from protesters for doing Beijing’s bidding, could be seen on the dais overlooking the square during the parade.
Xi also pledged to “unite the whole country and continue to strive for the complete unification of our country,” a reference to his desire to bring Taiwan, which Beijing views as a breakaway province, back under mainland control.
Xi, who has been increasingly invoking Mao, again called for the continuation of the revolutionary “struggle” that brought China’s Communists to power in 1949.
“We must continue to consolidate and develop the People’s Republic, and continue our struggle to achieve the two centenary goal and to realize the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation,” he said.
His words were followed by an extravagant display of military firepower, with tanks rolling down the main avenue into Tiananmen Square — the same route they took 30 years before to crush pro-democracy demonstrations.
But neither those events nor the brutalities of the Mao era, which included a famine resulting from the disastrous Great Leap Forward agricultural policy and the purges and violence of the Cultural Revolution, were mentioned on Tuesday.
Instead, the Communist Party and its People’s Liberation Army put on a staggering display of military firepower. Some 40 percent of the armaments were displayed in public for the first time, according to state media commentary.
These included the DF-41, a three-stage, solid-fuel missile that can carry up to 10 independently targetable nuclear warheads and has a range of about 7,500 miles, putting the entire United States in range.
The DF-17, a short-to-medium-range missile that can launch a hypersonic glide vehicle, was also on display. Analysts say the missile appears to be capable of exceeding the speed of sound and penetrating U.S. missile shields, and has a maneuverable reentry vehicle, so it can shift targets in flight.
There were also multiple new drones on display, including the Sharp Sword, an attack drone that can carry missiles or laser-guided bombs and is expected to enter service before the end of the year.
The parade was “glitzy” and showed “unity and optimism,” said Adam Ni, a China researcher at Macquarie University in Australia. “But I think underlying that, there are myriad challenges and tensions, both from within China and from external sources, that are creating the condition for potential dramatic change.”
Despite Xi’s posture of assurance, his leadership is coming under intense pressure from both inside and outside the country.
Protesters in Hong Kong show they do not share Xi’s “Chinese Dream” of “realizing the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” and are pushing for democracy and greater autonomy. They have been demonstrating for 17 straight weeks and held multiple rallies around Hong Kong on Tuesday to underscore their different dream for themselves.
Separately, China’s protracted trade war with the United States remains bogged down. Few expect Vice Premier Liu He’s trip to Washington next week for another round of talks to precipitate a breakthrough.
At home, the economy is tangibly slowing, with growth at its lowest level in more than a generation.
To bolster his leadership, Xi has repeatedly invoked Mao and exhorted the Chinese people to stay true to the “original mission” of the Party.
Xi wants to present himself as heir to the “struggle” Mao began and discount the leaders who came between them, analysts say. They include Deng Xiaoping, the economic visionary responsible for China’s astonishing transformation in the 1980s and 1990s.
“He wants to draw a straight line between Mao and himself,” Ni said. “He wants to say that the revolutionary establishment of the People’s Republic of China is now on the threshold of national rejuvenation. It’s a very simplified story.”
In 2017, Xi elevated himself to the same level as Mao and Deng in the Chinese Communist pantheon by having his name and the phrase “Xi Jinping Thought” enshrined in the constitution.
In recent weeks, Xi has been retracing Mao’s steps and repeatedly invoking the Red Army’s Long March and other elements of Communist Party lore in China.
The Xinhua state news agency on Monday published a long paean to Xi’s leadership — almost 2,500 words in English — that explicitly drew the connection between Mao’s appearance in Tiananmen Square after defeating the Nationalists.
“It was there on Oct. 1, 1949, that Mao Zedong announced the birth of New China. Over the seven decades, the socialist country has blazed an extraordinary trail, rising from a ‘poor and blank’ state to a major country on the world stage,” Xinhua wrote late Monday.
“Xi, the first top Chinese leader born after 1949, is at the helm in a new era, steering the country through wind and waves to a brighter future,” the agency said.