Beijing will stage a military parade of “unseen scale” in Tiananmen Square and along nearby Chang’an Avenue on October 1, to praise the nation’s feats and whip up patriotism on the 70th anniversary of the Communist republic.

Chinese state media have hinted since this week that the military bash may be the largest ever to take place since the republic was founded in 1949. It will see Xi and other members of the party’s top caucus stand on the dais of Tiananmen Gate while the elite troops of the People’s Liberation Army put their best foot forward, along with shows of force from its artillery and aircraft inventories.

As in the past, Xi, the PLA commander-in-chief, will inspect PLA battalions and brigades from a Chinese-made open-top Hongqi.

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Xi inspects troops in 2015. Photos: People’s Daily, AFP
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The PLA honor guards lead the march during a 2015 parade in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Photo: Xinhua
DF-31A missiles, the tailor-made launch vehicles for Chinese nuclear warheads, are seen during a military parade in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Photo: Xinhua
DF-31A missiles, the tailor-made launch vehicles for Chinese nuclear warheads, are seen during a 2015 military parade. Photo: Xinhua

This will be the fourth such massive PLA parade that Xi is to preside over since taking the helm of China and the PLA in 2012.

A man known for his penchant for pomp and military fanfare, Xi inspected more than 12,000 PLA troops in the same square on September 3, 2015, on the 70th anniversary of the victory of China’s resistance to Japanese aggression during World War II.

He also marshaled troops for a show of might in Inner Mongolia when the PLA turned 90 in July 2017, and fielded warships, nuclear submarines as well the Liaoning, the force’s sole serving aircraft carrier, in the South China Sea in April for a marine drill and parade hailed by Chinese media as “the largest of its kind in 600 years”.

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Xi also inspected the PLA troops in Inner Mongolia at the end of July 2017. Photo: Xinhua
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Xi addressed PLA seamen during a naval parade in the South China Sea in April. Photo: Xinhua

By comparison, Deng Xiaoping only appeared at two parades during his rule of China.

Chinese military observers say that processions from the PLA’s Rocket Force and Strategic Support Force, both the brainchild of Xi’s sweeping military shakeout, will also vie for the top commander’s attention during the upcoming October event. Some indigenous weapons and equipment are also set to make their debut.

Estimates put the total cost of the 2015 parade alone at 16 billion yuan (US$2.33 billion), after factoring in factory shutdowns and disruptions to residents and businesses in Beijing and neighboring provinces.

But the significance of the PLA’s excessive displays of force since Xi took office cannot be gauged by mere numbers. Xi, who has never served in the military, needs such occasions to cast an image of will and power, to remind his foes at home and China’s potential rivals abroad that he will soldier on to cement his position and project China’s heft.

The parade could also be useful to divert public attention from the ailing economy and stalled social reforms.

Read more: Xi reviews China’s biggest naval parade ‘in 600 years’