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China uses Communist Party's 70th anniversary to show off new high-tech missiles

Chinese President Xi Jinping reviews troops from a car during a military parade at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on October 1, 2019, to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Peoples Republic of China. Getty

Beijing — Trucks carrying weapons including a nuclear-capable missile designed to evade U.S. defenses rumbled through Beijing on Tuesday as the Communist Party celebrated its 70th anniversary in power. President Xi Jinping kicked off the celebrations with a short speech lauding the party's strength and calling for unity, including in tumultuous Hong Kong and Taiwan.

His remarks were followed by a military parade that showcased China's emergence as an increasingly ambitious global power. The military showed off the country's most advanced weapons, some being shown for the first time, as rows of soldiers marched in lockstep past Xi and other leaders in Tiananmen Square, the country's symbolic political heart.

Thousands of spectators waved Chinese flags and fighter jets flew low overhead.

"No force can shake the status of our great motherland, and no force can stop the progress of the Chinese people and the Chinese nation," Xi, wearing a gray Mao jacket, said in a nationally televised speech.

Xi was joined on the Tiananmen rostrum by Chinese leaders including Premier Li Keqiang and former Presidents Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin.

The event marks the anniversary of the Oct. 1, 1949, announcement of the founding of the People's Republic of China by then-leader Mao Zedong following a civil war. Invoking Mao's memory, Xi made his speech Tuesday on the same spot as the former leader's 1949 declaration.

Xi, who is chairman of the body that commands the ruling party's military wing, the People's Liberation Army, rode in an open-topped limousine past dozens of rows of truck-mounted missiles, armored personnel carriers and other military gear.

Soldiers in helmets and combat gear shouted, "Hello, leader!" and "Serve the people!" Xi replied, "Hello, comrades."

A formation of fighter jets trailing colored smoke and led by a plane with a radar dish flew low over the capital as Xi waved to the pilots from the ground.

High-tech weapons on parade

The event highlighted rapidly developing Chinese weapons technology that foreign analysts say is close to matching the United States, Russia and Europe in missiles, drones and some other fields.

The PLA, the world's biggest military with 2 million men and women in uniform, also is working on fighter planes, the first Chinese-built aircraft carrier and a new generation of nuclear-powered submarines.

One of the most closely-watched weapons unveiled Tuesday was the Dongfeng-17, a hypersonic ballistic nuclear missile believed capable of breaching all existing anti-missile shields deployed by the U.S. and its allies.

Military vehicles carrying Dongfeng-17 (DF-17) missiles participate in a military parade at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on October 1, 2019, to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Peoples Republic of China. Getty

Some analysts have called the missile a threat to regional stability because its speed allows far less time to determine whether to fire nuclear weapons in response. That speed and its use of multiple independently maneuverable re-entry vehicles to deliver its warheads makes it far more difficult to detect and intercept.

The DF-17's hypersonic glide vehicle technology also permits it to fly at a much lower altitude just prior to delivering its warhead, further frustrating attempts to detect and intercept.

Another missile displayed, the Dongfeng-41, is believed to have a range of up to 9,400 miles, which would make it world's longest-range military missile. Analysts say it may be able to carry as many as 10 warheads to hit separate targets.

The party's emphasis on missiles and other long-range weapons reflects Beijing's desire to displace the United States as the region's dominant force and enforce claims to Taiwan, the South China Sea and other disputed territories.

The PLA had the world's second-highest military spending at an estimated $250 billion last year, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. The United States, with a force of 1.3 million people, led in spending at $650 billion last year, or more than 2½ times China's level.

China has about 280 nuclear warheads, compared with 6,450 for the United States and 6,850 for Russia, according to SIPRI. Beijing says it wants a "minimum credible nuclear deterrent" but won't be the first to use atomic weapons in a conflict.

China has developed military abilities "that can reach potential adversaries across the globe," the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency said in a report in January.

Firm in the face of challenges

Tuesday's celebration comes as Xi's government faces economic and political challenges, but the ruling party's hold on power appears to be secure three decades after it crushed pro-democracy protests centered on Tiananmen Square.

Beijing is trying to shore up cooling economic growth and prevent politically dangerous job losses amid a tariff war with Washington over trade and technology, a dispute that has battered Chinese exporters.

Major clashes in Hong Kong as China prepares to celebrate 70 years of communism 01:36

The party faces anti-government protests in Hong Kong that have embarrassed Beijing ahead of its highest-profile political event of the year. Despite that, Xi promised in a speech Monday to stick to official commitments to let Hong Kong manage its own affairs despite the unrest.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam attended Tuesday's parade in Beijing, accompanied by dozens of Hong Kong officials and dignitaries in a show of unity with the ruling party.

Paramilitary policy maintained a strong presence Tuesday in Shenzhen, the mainland city that abuts Hong Kong. Dozens of armored personnel carriers and other vehicles of the People's Armed Police were parked outside a stadium as authorities prepared for an evening fireworks display.

"An inevitable trend"

Xi, the son of a commander in Mao's guerrilla army, has emerged as China's most powerful leader in decades after using a marathon anti-corruption drive to neutralize potential rivals.

The party removed constitutional limits on its term as president last year, rolling back efforts to create a consensus-based system and prevent autocratic one-man rule.

In his speech Monday, Xi reminded Taiwan, the self-ruled island Beijing claims as its own territory, of the ruling party's pledge to unite it with the mainland, by force if necessary.

Beijing is using China's status as the world's second-biggest economy as leverage to isolate Taiwan politically. China has pressured foreign retailers, airlines and other companies to identify the island and the mainland as one country on their websites. In its latest diplomatic coup, Beijing persuaded the Solomon Islands last month to break diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

Taiwan's unification with the mainland is "an inevitable trend" and "no force can ever stop it," Xi said.

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