Months of practice so China can show world its 'best image'

For 40-year-old Sergeant Major Ding Hui, being in Tian'anmen Square on Sept 3 does not only mean that he will take part in a national military parade for the third time.

"Compared with my past two parade experiences, in 1999 and 2009, this coming parade has more meaning to me and probably to all of my fellow comrades-in-arms," the veteran tank driver from the People's Liberation Army's 38 Combined Corps said.

"It will be a perfect occasion for us to tell our people and the entire world that China is strong and powerful now and that we will never be bullied by other nations again.

"I am the son of a farmers' family so I don't speak rhetoric. What I want to express is that my tank will be the first to go through Tian'anmen Square and it will also be the first to crush the enemy if they dare to invade our country again," he said.

China is staging the grand parade in Beijing to mark the 70th anniversary of the victory in the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression.

More than 10,000 military personnel, as well as war veterans and their descendants, will take part. The veterans and their families will ride in military vehicles.

Hundreds of tanks, armored vehicles, artillery, missiles and aircraft will also be on show during the parade, according to the PLA Parade Joint Command.

This will be China's 15th military parade since the founding of the People's Republic in 1949.

All troops taking part in the ceremony are receiving extensive training. It started in June, when they were gathered at military bases in Beijing and neighbouring regions, Major General Qu Rui from the PLA General Staff Headquarters previously told reporters.

Ding said he was very proud that this would be the second time he will lead the tanks past the Tian'anmen Rostrum to be inspected by world leaders, guests and the Chinese people.

During the 2009 Tian'anmen Square parade in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic, his tank was the first ground weapon to appear after the soldiers marched past.

What also makes him proud is the advanced tank he will drive in the coming parade.

"The new-generation tank I drive is definitely one of the best tanks in the world. It has strong firepower, excellent mobility, supreme protective measures and a comfortable control environment," he said, adding that the Chinese military now has many cutting-edge weapons thanks to the rapid development of defence technology.

Ding said, "We are determined to display to the world our best image and our top weapons."

The sentiment is shared by Rear Admiral Li Xiaoyan, deputy chief of staff of the PLA navy's South Sea Fleet, who will lead a naval vehicle unit through the famous Chang'an Avenue in the parade.

"In the military parade, we will not be regarded as a general or a soldier, all of us will be seen as a representative of the Chinese armed forces. Therefore, though I am a rear admiral, I regard myself as an ordinary soldier, which means I must be trained to as high a standard as for a soldier," Li said.

The rear admiral was true to his word, said Senior Captain Hu Jumin, training supervisor of the naval presence in the parade.

Hu said: "Like any other soldier in my unit, Li practices military parade etiquette for five hours each day. He also spends a lot of his rest time researching the unit's vehicles to help us improve training for the vehicles' drivers."

The rear admiral has set a good example, keeping morale high and inspiring the soldiers, he added.

Li said: "A military parade is like combat, you must try your best to honour the PLA flag and to meet people's expectations."

New features

The PLA is making an all-out effort to ensure that the parade is a huge success, according to Major General Wang Shun, deputy chief of staff of the PLA Beijing Military Command and deputy director of the Office of the PLA Parade Joint Command.

A total of 50 units, 40 on the ground and 10 in the air, will represent the PLA.

Among the ground units, two will be composed of war veterans and their descendants, 11 will be serving members and 27 will feature military hardware, including many new weapons that have never been publicly displayed before, Wang said.

The overall plan for the parade was made at the beginning of the year, he said.

During previous military parades on Tian'anmen Square, groups were organised based on their affiliation to each service branch. For example, ground force equipment units would be in a group, with naval weapons units in another group.

By comparison, groups for the coming parade will be formed in accordance with their role in a joint combat operation in the event of war, according to the major general.

"For instance, if several units' equipment is to be used in an air defence operation, then these units will be in one group, no matter whether they are from the ground force or the Second Artillery Corps, the PLA's strategic missile force," Wang explained.

"This arrangement aims to highlight the trend for placing all the services under one unified command during joint operations in the future."

Senior Colonel Liu Shixu, deputy chief of staff of the PLA Beijing Garrison Command and training supervisor of the marching units, said the first unit in the parade will be the PLA Guard of Honor.

That will be followed by serving elite soldiers from 10 military units that hold distinguished records from the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression. At the front of each of the 10 units will be seven soldiers, each holding a flag dating back to the war.

The PLA Parade Joint Command has adopted several innovations to improve training, Wang said.

China's own global navigation and positioning network, the Beidou Navigation Satellite System, is being used to help synchronize the ground units' marching and driving pace. A parade simulation system was also developed to improve training, Wang added.

Band and chorus

Through the whole parade, there will be instrumental and choral performances presented by the PLA Combined Band and the PLA Chorus, said Major General Li Zhensheng, deputy head of the PLA General Political Department's publicity office.

Most of the music and songs performed by the two groups are classic works from the wartime era, he said.

"These works reflect the Chinese people's heroism and represent their aspirations for a strong nation and a mighty military," Li said.

The two groups were formed to serve the Sept 3 parade and will be disbanded after it. Members of the PLA Combined Band are from professional and amateur bands within the military. Singers of the PLA Chorus are male students at military academies.

Sun Jingfeng, a student from the PLA Air Force Engineering University and a singer in the chorus, said thousands of students at his university competed for a place because singing for a Tian'anmen Square parade is a great honour.

"We were so enthusiastic that the university had to hold three rounds of tests to select those with the best voice and best image," he said.

"So even though the choral training is tough, all of us feel privileged and are aware of our responsibility. We have all experienced many times that when we sang songs that praise our motherland, our tears would flow because we were overwhelmed by our pride in our great nation," Sun noted.

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