BEIJING — It’s the roll call that everyone is talking about.
On Sept. 3, China will host a military parade in the heart of the capital to mark the 70th anniversary of “victory in the Chinese People’s War Against Japanese Aggression,” also known as the end of World War II.
Beijing is almost ready for its close-up: There will be 2.8 million new flowerpots, olive branches and arrangements in the shape of doves. There will also be weaponry galore and goose-stepping soldiers in Tiananmen Square.
But will there be foreign guests?
At a time when regional tensions are running high, world leaders know that if they show up they’ll be present, and photographed at, a march that will likely trumpet anti-Japanese sentiment.
But not going risks the displeasure of China, which sees the event as a chance to remind the world of both its wartime contributions and its rising international clout under President — and first-time national military parade host — Xi Jinping.
“This is a big party for Mr. Xi, and in a way, a coming out party for China,” said Sheila A. Smith, author of “Intimate Rivals: Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China” and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “The guests who are there, versus the guests who do not come — that will be remembered.”
Beijing insists that the event is about peace, not politics. The anniversary logo, for instance, features a V-shaped Great Wall flanked by five pigeons representing “five continents united and moving together towards a beautiful future.”
Yet despite the official discourse, the display is “targeted at Japan at least to some extent,” said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Beijing’s Renmin University, both in terms of historical grievances and present-day disputes.
Plus, attendees would be there as Chinese military vehicles roll through the site of the bloody 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square — pretty much the opposite of a solid political photo op.
For most leaders, it seems, it hasn’t been an easy choice.
So far, only Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who recently held his own military parade, and a small clutch of other countries — including Mongolia, Egypt and the Czech Republic — have confirmed.
The United States has not received an official invitation, said Benjamin Weber, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, but Chinese officials did raise the issue in a general way. It is still unclear whether Britain will attend, or whether Europe will have a sizable showing of any sort.
In July, the European Union’s ambassador to China, Hans Dietmar Schweisgut, said he thought it was “unlikely” that top E.U. leaders would attend.“One concern we share is that if this event is taking place, including with a military parade, the concern is, is this really sending a message of reconciliation?” he said.
Things are not much clearer in Asia.
There have been rumors that Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — yes, Abe — was invited, though it seems extremely unlikely he would attend. At most, says Smith of the Council on Foreign Relations, he might stop by for a meeting after the main event, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel did after the parade in Moscow.
Another question mark is North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, who skipped Putin’s parade and generally seems content to stay on his own turf. Given Beijing’s frustrations with his regime, and the scene-stealing spectacle that would occur if he turned up, it seems unlikely that Chinese officials are begging him to come.
The big get for the Chinese side would be South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye, who shares something of the Chinese leadership’s antipathy toward Japan and has made diplomacy with China a top priority.
For the Chinese, she may be the best bet, said John Delury, a China and Korea expert at Seoul’s Yonsei University. She has the advantage of being “get-able,” he said, and could “lend the event a little more international credibility.”
Her aides on Monday said she is “carefully reviewing” the invitation.
Xu Yangjingjing contributed to this report.