China’s big military parade featured an understated but key element: dust

In the haze.
In the haze.
Image: EPA/Xinhua/Wu Xiaoling
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In September 2015 China shut down factories and roads in order to ensure blue skies for its WWII military parade in Beijing. But at a parade on Sunday (July 30), part of celebrations surrounding the 90th anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army on Tuesday, the military brass welcomed a little dirt.

Ren Guoqiang, a spokesman of China’s defense ministry, praised the “dust-covered battlefield atmosphere” of sand-swept Inner Mongolia’s Zhurihe training base, where the parade took place under the impassive gaze of president Xi Jinping, who wore plain military fatigues for the occasion, and spoke from an open-top jeep.

The troops marching past—12,000 were on hand—wore combat garb, not dress uniforms, and kicked up plenty of crud along the way, as did the various military vehicles.

Whether by accident or design, the plain backdrop and lack of ornamentation meshed well visually with Xi’s long-stated goal for the bloated PLA to modernize into a leaner, meaner fighting machine, one that features fewer troops and less bureaucracy but more effective weaponry. Nearly half the equipment seen yesterday was being displayed for the first time. In 2015, Xi announced a sweeping reorganization of the military that included cutting about 300,000 soldiers.

Today (July 31) state broadcaster CCTV showed footage of the parade at the top of every hour. The gritty imagery should help Xi, who added “commander in chief” to his titles in April 2016, in his bid to consolidate power ahead of a key Communist Party congress later this year.